Former Decathlete’s Fitness-Plus Vision

“My goal is to introduce a program in the Hamptons for young people which would encompass all of these integrated services that La Palestra has
The Beach Diplomats, the team for which Kofi Sekyiamah plays, is in second place with a 12-2 record, just behind Air & Speed (13-1), going into tonight’s 4-on-4 beach volleyball games at Gurney’s Inn. Jane Bimson

   As “defiant” as he had been as a teenager, Kofi Sekyiamah said with a smile during a conversation at The Star the other day, the all-boys Presbyterian school in England his Ghanian parents had sent him to had, with its strict rules and regulations, “made me stay in line,” and that toeing of the line combined with his innate love of sport had given him “real direction.”
    The former Olympic decathlete, who represented his native country in the 1988 Games in Seoul, South Korea, and who, in his first summer here, is training clients at Chris Carney’s Railroad Avenue Fitness Center and is playing for Carney’s Beach Diplomats team in the beach volleyball league at Gurney’s Inn, was reared in Accra, Ghana’s capital city.
    “I started as a soccer player, but I had a natural ability in track and field . . . the high jump, long jump, 100 meters, 400 meters, pole vault, hurdles . . . all the events. From the ages of 14 to 18, when I was in secondary school, I trained four to six hours a day. My coach, Charles Denton, who was from England and saw my ability, trained and groomed me every single day toward my highest potential. From 16 to 18 I traveled to meets around the country. So, when I went to England, I had a well-developed talent.”
    “That school in England that my parents sent me to [his father was Ghana’s  minister to the U.N.] was an international one. There were students there from England, France, Germany . . . a very good school. Very good in math and science. From there, I won a full scholarship to Cambridge University, where I studied economics and foreign affairs. I aspired to work with the U.N. as my father did. But,” the interviewee said with another broad smile, “I quickly realized that my passion lay more in athletics.”
    Asked how he had done at the Seoul Games, Sekyiamah said, “I did well — I did not medal, but did well and enjoyed the experience. After competing, I came to the U.S. and worked with the U.S. Olympic Committee as a strength coach in Colorado Springs. Two years later, I came to New York and worked as a coach for the New York Sports Club and with the Equinox Fitness Center. Then, in 1995, I discovered a fitness center called La Palestra, whose mission is to improve the quality of people’s lives, through exercise, education, and community.”
    “I’ve been working with them for 15 years now. It’s almost like a university. Before you even begin, you are evaluated fully by medical, nutritional, behavioral, and fitness professionals. Your goals are discussed and the obstacles you may have in reaching them — your doubts, your fears, your self-imposed limitations. . . . If we understand what makes us who we are we can then break through and become who we want to be.”
    His experience with La Palestra, he said, had led him to think the same thing could be done here. “My goal,” said Sekyiamah, “is to introduce a program in the Hamptons for young people which would encompass all of these integrated services that La Palestra has. You know there is an epidemic of obesity among young people in this country. Nutrition would be a very important component. An education in health and fitness would help them to become healthy adults and would give them the tools to become as healthy as they can be.”
    “At the same time, it would be fun. Sporting activities . . . beach volleyball, baseball, soccer, basketball . . . would be integrated with all the rest of the activities. They’d feel like they were playing yet they would be getting exercise and learning and understanding all these elements that can help them become better in life.”
    Such a program, said Sekyiamah, “would teach discipline, work ethic, teamwork, leadership, accountability. . . . All of these things would be pulled together to develop a real conscious young person who would understand that rewards will come from his or her effort, that it just doesn’t happen. And what they learn they would be able to teach others. That’s where leadership comes in. Whatever you’re strongest at you can teach to others, and they, in turn, can teach whatever they’re strongest at to you, which is what you need for the future. It’s an ideal social paradigm — it’s bigger than fitness.”
    “If I see that my vision is viable — my purpose, by the way, is not to build elite athletes, but to create an environment in which anyone of any ability can improve and learn and enjoy and gain from the experience — I’m more than willing to set up residence here, though I will always maintain a connection with La Palestra.”
    Asked about the coming Olympics, Sekyiamah said, “I’m looking forward to them. They should be spectacular. I’m especially looking forward to the opening ceremonies, which will be a spectacular representation and display of unity.”
    He was looking forward, as well, to the track and field events, and to beach volleyball. “They play 2-on-2 in the Olympics, which is what I play in Central Park, on the stadium sand court just east of the Sheep Meadow off 67th Street. It’s the perfect setting — there are the sunbathers on the Sheep Meadow who are also watching, the rollerbladers, the music, concessions, the carousel for children. . . . The 2-on-2 game is the true form because you have to possess all the different skills. There’s only you and one partner to cover a very large area. You have to defend, hit, set . . . you have to come to play. The city is a real mecca for the sport. We get visitors from all over the country and the world, from Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Cambodia, Russia, and, of course, Ghana. . . . It’s a United Nations of volleyball!”
    “We go to tournaments in Long Beach, New Jersey, Coney Island . . . there’s prize money, but we play for the pride of competing, not for the money. For bragging rights.”
    Asked about the logo on his shirt, Sekyiamah said, “It’s the Marseilles Football Club’s jersey. That’s where my wife, Sabine, is from. . . . She’s a dancer, a true artist . . . a painter, writer, musician, a true artiste. She’s the artist, I’m the athlete, and we learn from each other.”