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Spc. Noah Akwu, 31, enlisted in the Army earlier this year after a track and field career that took him to the 2012 Olympic games in London, where he represented his native country of Nigeria.

Spc. Noah Akwu, 31, enlisted in the Army earlier this year after a track and field career that took him to the 2012 Olympic games in London, where he represented his native country of Nigeria. (Photo provided by Noah Akwu)

Noah Akwu had three lifetime dreams growing up in Nigeria. He wanted to run in the Olympics, to move to America and to serve in the military as a medic, just as his father and grandfather had.

A full scholarship to Middle Tennessee State University helped him realize his dream of living in the U.S. Then, in 2012 he made the Nigerian Olympic team. He ran the 200-meter race at the London Games, racing in the quarterfinals against Jamaica’s Gold-medalist Usain Bolt.

His final dream became a reality this year when Akwu, 31, enlisted as a combat medic in the U.S. Army. Other occupations came with bonuses, but he chose instead to follow in his father’s footsteps.

“It’s like a family tree,” he said. “When I enlisted, it was one of [my dad’s] happiest days.”

Spc. Noah Akwu, 31, enlisted in the Army earlier this year after a track and field career that took him to the 2012 Olympic games in London, where he represented his native country of Nigeria. He raced against Jamaican Gold-medalist Usain Bolt in the 200-meter quarterfinals.

Spc. Noah Akwu, 31, enlisted in the Army earlier this year after a track and field career that took him to the 2012 Olympic games in London, where he represented his native country of Nigeria. He raced against Jamaican Gold-medalist Usain Bolt in the 200-meter quarterfinals. (Photo provided by Noah Akwu)

Spc. Noah Akwu, 31, enlisted in the Army earlier this year after a track and field career that took him to the 2012 Olympic games in London, where he represented his native country of Nigeria.

Spc. Noah Akwu, 31, enlisted in the Army earlier this year after a track and field career that took him to the 2012 Olympic games in London, where he represented his native country of Nigeria. (Photo provided by Noah Akwu)

Already serving at the rank of specialist, Akwu will finish his advanced individual training at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston in Texas in October, then head north to Fort Hood. He hopes his wife, who is in a doctoral program back in Tennessee, will be able to join him.

“Spc. Akwu brings a higher level of maturity to our formation with a wealth of experiences that made him the man and soldier he is today,” said Capt. Ryan O’Leary, commander of Akwu’s unit, Alpha Company, 232nd Medical Battalion. “Overall, he's a phenomenal soldier and I look forward to seeing him finish strong in the course, alongside his fellow combat medics, and have a successful military career.”

Training to become a soldier isn’t that different from the running regimen he’s been on since elementary school.

“To train at a professional level or a competitive level you have to be disciplined,” he said. “So coming to the military, that really helps me — the discipline. Every day you have to show up.”

Coming in already physically fit has helped, too. On his first Army Combat Fitness Test, Akwu scored around a 550 with the sprint-drag-carry as his weakest event. So he hit the gym, strengthening his legs.

He made a near-perfect 599 on his second test, finishing the event in 1 minute, 23 seconds. Now his peers, many a decade younger than him, are asking for training tips in the gym.

“They were surprised,” he said. “They thought I’m old. I said, ‘Yeah, I still work out.’”

Spc. Noah Akwu, 31, enlisted in the Army earlier this year after a track and field career that took him to the 2012 Olympic games in London, where he represented his native country of Nigeria.

Spc. Noah Akwu, 31, enlisted in the Army earlier this year after a track and field career that took him to the 2012 Olympic games in London, where he represented his native country of Nigeria. (Photo provided by Noah Akwu)

Spc. Noah Akwu, 31, chose to join the U.S. Army as a combat medic, because his father served in that role for the Nigerian army. He will graduate advanced individual training in October and move to Fort Hood, Texas.

Spc. Noah Akwu, 31, chose to join the U.S. Army as a combat medic, because his father served in that role for the Nigerian army. He will graduate advanced individual training in October and move to Fort Hood, Texas. (Photo provided by Noah Akwu)

Spc. Noah Akwu, 31, chose to join the U.S. Army as a combat medic, because his father served in that role for the Nigerian army. He will graduate advanced individual training in October and move to Fort Hood, Texas.

Spc. Noah Akwu, 31, chose to join the U.S. Army as a combat medic, because his father served in that role for the Nigerian army. He will graduate advanced individual training in October and move to Fort Hood, Texas. (Photo provided by Noah Akwu)

That surprise may also have come from Akwu’s humility about his background. O’Leary only learned he had an Olympian in his unit after asking Akwu about his life during a group run.

“If I didn't ask, I'm not sure we would've ever found out. He's not one to brag about his experiences, and never brings it up unless someone asks him,” O’Leary said. “From our talk I learned that his father is a huge motivating factor in his life, along with his wife.”

Once his medic training is complete, Akwu said he plans to apply for additional training to become a flight paramedic. He also started paperwork for U.S. citizenship with hopes of becoming an officer someday.

“That’s why I like the U.S. and the Army, too,” he said. “They offer a lot of opportunities.”

author picture
Rose L. Thayer is based in Austin, Texas, and she has been covering the western region of the continental U.S. for Stars and Stripes since 2018. Before that she was a reporter for Killeen Daily Herald and a freelance journalist for publications including The Alcalde, Texas Highways and the Austin American-Statesman. She is the spouse of an Army veteran and a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in journalism. Her awards include a 2021 Society of Professional Journalists Washington Dateline Award and an Honorable Mention from the Military Reporters and Editors Association for her coverage of crime at Fort Hood.

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