Athleticism, self motivation and sheer grit is what keeps athlete Sam Effah on track to the podium at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
cover photo via Tobais Wang
The Calgary Native who now calls Toronto home, knows how to set goals and how to smash them. During an illustrious career, Effah is a two time Canadian 100m national champion, RBC Olympian and a guest speaker. He holds the title of ‘fastest man in Canadian university history,’ after winning four consecutive ‘Most Valuable Player’ awards during his university career and was a runner up in the 2019 Amazing Race Canada. The road to success comes with hurdles, and soaring over them is what this inspiring 31 year old athlete knows how to do. Having a lust for life and a hunger for more is what motivates Sam’s goal to compete at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic games, and make a lasting impact on the next generation of athletes.
Reaching any goal takes a huge level of commitment to overcome setbacks, losses and remain focused. Effah explains, “it’s about how to take those losses and then turning them into the best race or competition you’ve ever done.”
We caught up with Sam to see what’s next on the radar for this aspiring Canadian Olympian; how he juggles it all, what he’s learned along the journey and the best advice on striving for greatness.
Describe yourself in one sentence?
Motivated, continually learning, and never settling.
Who or what inspires and motivates you?
Wanting to reach my full potential motivates me. I’ve had big successes on the track, as well as too many setbacks. I won’t quit until I reach my athletic limits. From hip surgery to keeping faith and believing that I can be the champion I once was. I need to keep going.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career as an athlete?
In 2014 I was diagnosed with major labral tears, one in each of my hips. It hurt to sit, walk, twist, and of course, run. I was told there was a strong potential that I would not be able to sprint at the same level again. I required surgery to manage the pain. Starting from scratch – walking, jogging, sprinting in competition, required a ton of patience, discipline and trust in my recovery program. I jumped on the Anti-Gravity Treadmill – A state of the art technology used by NASA – and was able to train while recovering. I adjusted to the gravity over the course of my recovery and was able to bounce back.. eventually.
What does the path to your first Olympic games look like?
2020 will be the first games I compete at, if selected. I’ve competed at 3 World Championships, 2 Commonwealth Games, 2 World University Games and several international meets – and I’m hungry as hell to compete at the Tokyo Olympics.
You are currently in training for the 2020 Olympics, what does your training schedule entail?
I’ll train 5 days a week with running sessions in the morning, followed by a weight session in the afternoon. My biggest focus in training is technique, and being as efficient as possible. A ton of time is spent with my coach working on running form, effective functional movement and just getting stronger overall.
We all know nutrition is such an important factor in our performance. What is your nutrition regime like while in training? How does it differ from your daily life?
Nutrition in training is so important when it comes to performance. Staying hydrated during a session can be tough, because I’m constantly exerting myself at highly strenuous levels. I’m always drinking water, paired with an electrolyte mix to ensure that I can complete my workouts and limit cramping. Post training recovery is key as well. During competition phases of the year I’ll adjust eating to stay as lean and strong as possible. Outside of training I have a little bit more leniency, as I just eat enough to make sure I am fueled and ready for the next run. I focus on having smaller meals on off days.
My nutrition & training is carefully put together by Kelly Anne Erdman, a Performance Dietitian at the Canadian Sport Institute in Calgary. We have the goal of keeping me energized in all training sessions and peaking for big competitions.
Post training, I’m big on recovery shakes: Whey, amino acid, and glutamine (with water). Depending on the training phase/load, my recovery varies. I’ve always struggled with muscle cramping during workouts so hydration is extremely important. I use ELoad – an electrolyte replacement to help me battle this issue.
Meal wise, I stick to similar portions every meal. I’m simple; chicken breast (or protein alternative), veggies, 1 cup of starch, and repeat. I’m definitely big on protein, and have always had no issue with cutting or gaining lean muscle mass. On off days I stick to a lighter meal portion and will treat myself to one snack (up to 300 calories – can’t live without my chocolate chip cookie!). I generally try not to calorie count, but instead monitor portions.
During training what do you find more challenging, the mental or physical effects?
I find the mental parts of training the toughest. For example, knowing that I have a brutal workout when I haven’t had the greatest sleep is not the best feeling. You have to tell yourself that you have the energy, show up confident and attack workouts like that. When you’re no longer the top dog in the 100m, you have to believe that you can get back, no matter how unlikely it sometimes may feel. Your mental wellness is so key to being successful. If you’re happy and confident on the track, you’re more likely to be successful.
What is your proudest moment in life to date?
Winning my first 100m title and being crowned the fastest man in Canada. I was 21 at the time, and competed at the Varsity Stadium in Toronto. I had dreamed of the moment and came from being a relatively unknown Calgary sprinter, to the fastest in the country – it was such an amazing honour.
What inspired you to be a contender in the Amazing Race Canada?
Using the platform to inspire Canadians. I love community work and want to tell my stories of resilience, finding your passion, and being your authentic self – to a larger audience. I speak to corporate audiences about “Finding your purpose,” using storytelling to parallel sport and work. Being an athlete is more than making the podium and getting medals – and going to work is more than bringing home a big paycheque.
I also speak to audiences on ‘manifesting a growth mindset’. I went from essentially having two broken hips and requiring surgery, to getting back on my feet and representing Canada at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. With help from the Anti-Gravity Treadmill, I’m literally running for my dream of competing at the Olympic Games in 2020. Without a growth mindset, I couldn’t be where I am, and I want to share that with Canada.
What would 31-year-old Sam say to 21-year-old Sam?
I would tell my younger self to enjoy the moment. When you compete overseas, take the time to explore the new countries you visit. When it comes to training, get to know your training partners better – you’re all in this together. And lastly, I would say to RELAX! Everything will be ok as long as you have good intentions and you’re prepared, things will turn out fine.
What’s the best piece of advice you give to millennials?
Go for it! Whether it’s trying a new sport, deciding to take a risk or choosing an activity that is outside of the norm. We often hold back our deepest desires because we’re afraid of being judged. At the end of the day, it’s your life and your happiness.
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