Resilience Reaps Rewards- An Interview with Joe Akik
Having been denied a place on the swim team when he arrived at university, I wanted to find out how Joe dealt with the disappiontement, how he moved on and his hopes for the future.
After swimming had been such a major part of your life, how did you feel when you didn’t make the swim team? How did you cope with your feelings?
It was a really weird situation where I didn’t really know what to do. Swimming had always meant a lot to me, so I really don’t think I fully accepted that I wasn’t going to be doing it anymore. I really think I repressed a lot of stuff by picking up a new sport straight away, because I couldn’t deal with not being involved with something competitive. Deep down I did wish that I was still swimming, especially since I had a lot of mates that were still doing it, but I really tried not to think about it. I didn’t cope with my feelings very well at all because I didn’t acknowledge them, and I really regret that.
Why did you decide to continue with sport?
After a few days of doing nothing I decided I was going to look for another sport, just because I wasn’t good enough to swim at the time I thought I could definitely be good at something else. When it comes to any sort of training I really need a purpose, so I wouldn’t have just been satisfied with going to the gym every day because I need much more than that. I’m definitely athletically gifted as I’ve always been able to pick up a lot of different sports quite easily. So, after very little thought I had already convinced myself I was going to do something else.
What drew you to American football?
I’ve always loved watching American football and it’s such low-key sport in this country that I’d never had the opportunity to play it. So, after watching a few OBJ (Odell Beckham Junior) videos on YouTube I was pretty much sold. I knew I would play as a wide receiver and kick returner straight away, I had all the right attributes for it because I was tall and pretty quick. From the first training session I really put everything into it, I improved so much over such a short period and I was awarded ‘Rookie of the Year’ playing for Loughborough, which I was really proud of.
Why did you decide to go back to swimming?
During summer before I came back I started swimming a bit on my own, and it really made me realise how much I missed it. I did a time trial at my old swim club and I was putting out pretty fast times so that was definitely the turning point for me. I went home to visit my family in Tunisia the week after and my family wanted me to go to the Tunisian swimming federation and see if I was good enough to swim for them. I had a meeting with the head of the federation and he asked me to swim my best event, and I set one of the fastest times swam by any Tunisian. The coaches there couldn’t believe that I hadn’t swam properly for over a year and said that they thought I had a lot of potential. They asked me to train with the national team later that day and then told me to come and train whenever I was in the country. That was when I realised that I had a massive opportunity to swim for Tunisia and I couldn’t let that go.
How did you feel when you were accepted onto the swim team this year?
I really don’t think I could have been happier being accepted onto the team. Not just because I’d been accepted, but because of what I’d gone through to get there. I got told I’d never be good enough to make the team, then after a year out I trained myself to be good enough for the best swimming squad in the country. I’m so proud of how resilient I was, because it would have been so much easier for me to quit for good. I’ve always thought I’m quite psychologically weak, but I really proved to myself otherwise. I’ve only been in the team for a few months now and I’m really looking forward to next season to see what I can do because I know that this is just the start of something.
Joe Akik interviewed by Anna Doughty