When Femita Ayanbeku was 11, she lost part of her leg in the aftermath of a car crash. Looking back, she would want that girl to know everything would eventually work out — that she would find purpose and strength in the sport of track and field, go on to become a 100m national champion and Paralympic athlete in the same year, take home a bronze for her performance in the 200m at the 2019 World Championships, and gain the confidence she lacked growing up. "I wasted so much time feeling sorry for myself or being insecure about myself," Ayanbeku told POPSUGAR. "I waited a long time to be the person that I am now, and I wish I would've started a long time ago."
After that car crash at 11 years old, Ayanbeku's right leg was amputated below the knee. Though she didn't get her first running blade until 2015 at a clinic hosted by the Challenged Athletes Foundation, sprinting simply clicked. "I always tell people, when I run, I feel like I have two feet," she said, adding that, unlike walking, where she feels every step she takes, running comes more naturally.
Ayanbeku competes in the T64 category, and her first Paralympics was the 2016 Rio Games, placing sixth in the 200m. Fast forward to now, "my mind can't even fathom where I'm at, still till this day," she said. She has worked with coach Sherman Hart since 2015, and she's currently training for the Tokyo Paralympic trials, where she hopes to qualify for another Games.
Ayanbeku trains Monday through Friday. She's on the track four days a week, her go-to routine for active rest days is Pilates, and she does weightlifting up to four days a week as well (however, her strength-training sessions will most likely decrease in frequency as Tokyo approaches, she said). She'll continue to focus on 100m and 200m races, though 100m, she clarified, is where her heart is at. Her goal specifically for the 100m is to get in the 12-second range, something she's ran before but never officially clocked in competition. "I need to execute my race. As long as I do that, the medal I deserve will be around my neck," she said.
"Whatever is in your way, whatever barriers or adversities you're facing, it doesn't have to be the end of your story."
The most difficult part about having a disability, Ayanbeku said, is breaking the stigma of "seeing somebody with a disability and automatically feeling bad for them," she explained. "Everybody treats their disability differently, so it shouldn't just be this blanket of feeling sad for disabled people." Disabled visibility across fitness, she said, has a long way to go as well "because it needs to be more normalized to the point where people don't feel like it's inspiration porn, or people are trying to get a pity story out of putting somebody that's disabled on TV."
Ayanbeku is very aware, too, that being disabled can feel isolating. So she started a nonprofit, Limb-It-Less Creations, to provide support for the disabled community, specifically amputees. "Growing up, I never had any other amputees to talk to or be around," she said. That's another reason she loves the Paralympic community so much: there are always "people around me that are like me."
On top of her track and field accolades, Ayanbeku is an ACE-certified personal trainer. She completed her certification in 2018 because she "just fell in love with the transformation that I had myself through fitness, whether it was through track or me being in the gym." She said she lives for the messages of gratitude that she receives from her clients, whom she trains at 6Fit Studio, and seeing them become stronger is as rewarding as it gets.
"For me, personally, being this amputee girl, I just didn't want that to be the end of my story," Ayanbeku said. "Whatever is in your way, whatever barriers or adversities you're facing, it doesn't have to be the end of your story."
To learn more about all the Olympic hopefuls, visit TeamUSA.org. Watch the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics this summer on NBC.