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In track and field, relay races are one of the most highly anticipated events. Comprised of four runners (legs), they each must seamlessly pass the baton within the exchange zone to insure the last leg crosses the finish line for the win. Counting steps for the exchange zone is imperative. Practicing the baton release requires a rhythm: 1, 2, 3 … STICK. 1, 2, 3 … STICK! In the same way that relay runners pass the baton, two Liberian athletes have made the bold decision to pass the baton to aspiring athletes in Liberia.
During the 2011- 2012 season, Liberia Olympian Phobay Kutu-Akoi began a shoe collection with the intent to send the shoes to Liberia after each season. With the help of a few friends, a shipment of 45 running spikes, 31 running shoes and 26 bags made its way back home, in October 2016. Due to limited space, all the collected shoes could not be sent with the shipment. Porsha Lucas and Otis McDaniel, two friends of Kutu-Akoi, were instrumental in assisting with the endeavor. Both friends used their personal connections to collect and donate footwear.
On March 18, 2017, Samuel Cooper Choko, a local coach in Liberia, sent pictures that he had received the shipment. “Many of the local Liberian athletes hold Coach Choko in high regards because of his efforts during and after the Ebola epidemic,” Kutu-Akoi said.
Coach Choko continued to coach the runners, throughout the health crisis. Many runners stated that he gave them a reason to start running again. “To see the athletes happy made my week,” Kutu-Akoi said.
Kutu-Akoi plans on shipping again, but is currently not collecting. She desires to be an asset in more ways than one.
Liberian Heptathlete Maya Neal has also made a huge contribution to athletes back home in Liberia. Since October 2016, she has conducted two collections and distributions. Neal collected approximately 35-40 pairs of running shoes, track spikes and soccer cleats (separate from additional gear and/or footwear).
Neal’s collection deadlines are sent out periodically over social media, with one occurring this past March. She intends to ship shoes often, depending on her contact on the ground in Liberia, until she puts into action a more stable organization. The next shipment date has not been set, but Neal is accepting all sizes in both men and women in order to accommodate as many individuals as possible (new and lightly used).
Along the track you will hear teammates yelling “Don’t drop the stick,” during baton exchanges. Kutu-Akoi and Neal are not dropping the stick. We commend these young women for seamlessly passing the baton to assist our future athletes with their goals of one day representing Mama Liberia on the international stage.
To support Neal’s endeavors, leave a comment or subscribe for future details. Neal and Kutu-Akoi are on Twitter at @MayaBear32 and @Phobs_tweets respectively.