Mormon Olympic hopeful from Ghana learned priceless lessons on mission

Published: Monday, Dec. 3 2012 5:00 a.m. MST

Allah Laryea-Akrong competes at a track meet for Utah Valley University.

Megan Laryea-Akrong

At the National Athletics Championship at the El-Wak Sports Stadium in Accra, Ghana, Allah Laryea-Akrong tenses at the line, crouched down, mind clear, on the verge of making it to the 2012 Olympics in London as a sprinter in the men's 100-meter event.

The bang from the gun pierces the air, and mechanically Akrong is out of the blocks and sprinting to the finish line. He crosses first, breaking his personal record, only to realize he's missed the Olympic mark by two-hundredths of a second off the B standard qualifying time of 10.25 seconds. Akrong has clocked in at 10.27.

Laryea-Akrong is a runner, Latter-day Saint and Olympic hopeful. The 29-year-old who competes for the Utah Valley University track team fell just short of qualifying for the Olympics for his home country of Ghana, but persists in chasing his dream.

"I was like so close to the Olympic Games, and I can really see that dream happening this year and I was excited and I really didn't think I had so much to work on. … I was just thinking that all I needed to do was focus more and get relaxed more and just run good, but the unexpected happened when we had to go to Benin," Laryea-Akrong said.

With one more chance to qualify, Laryea-Akrong and his team traveled to Benin for the African Championship, but their anticipated four-hour drive to Benin took 17 hours and Laryea-Akrong again failed to qualify for the Olympics. "Everything was just thrown off so it wasn't really fun going out there," Laryea-Akrong said.

With hopes dashed for the 2012 Olympics, Laryea-Akrong anticipates qualifying for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. Between then and now, Laryea-Akrong will finish his bachelor's degree in technology management and looks forward to starting a family with his wife, Megan, getting a career and owning his own business.

"I just learned that you can't always think what you want is supposed to happen," he said. "The Lord has a plan for you, and you have to do what he wants and he will see you through whatever you have to do. It really motivates me to do things if it's what the Lord really wants me to do, and even not going to the Olympic Games this year I don't feel disappointed. I just think the Lord has a plan, and I just have to realize that if it is his own time and his own will, I will be happy."

Baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1994 at age 11, he had two goals: serve a mission and run competitively in the United States. He began running in high school, and his coaches told him he was too small, but he ran anyway.

After high school, he continued to run. He hoped that by postponing his mission, he'd eventually get to run in the United States, but he couldn't catch a break.

Then in 2004, a coach from Utah Valley University heard about Laryea-Akrong and sent him forms to apply, but the deadline passed before he could interview. Frustrated, he remembered, "Put the Lord first and everything will work out."

Stubbornly, he continued to pursue competitive running, but eventually left on his mission in 2005, to the Accra Ghana Mission, where he served for two years.

"I've always been taught, the Lord has a plan for you, and so I thought, 'The Lord's plan can wait and I'll try out my plan and see how it goes,' but mostly my plans never come through," he said. "I never traveled with the national team before I served my mission, like for almost five years I never went anywhere … But when I made the decision to serve my mission and come back, I just got back from my mission and I got to go to Ethiopia and run for the national team."

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