By Alexandra Sosik
Capital News Service
Hakeem Abdul-Saboor will compete for Team USA in South Korea in about a week. But before he could call himself an Olympic bobsledder, the 2005 Powhatan High School graduate was a triple-threat athlete and bodybuilder.
He served as captain of the track and field team, played basketball and excelled at football, leading his team to a career record of 36-3. He went on to accept a scholarship to play Division II football for the University of Virginia at Wise.
"Hakeem is probably the best all-around athlete I have ever coached," UVa-Wise head coach Dewey Lusk said on Abdul-Saboor's website.
Abdul-Saboor played running back for Wise until 2009 when he tore his ACL four games into his senior season. He said that injury ended both his college and potential professional football career.
In an interview with NBC Olympics, Abdul-Saboor said he stayed on campus and focused on the gym. A friend told him he should consider entering a bodybuilder contest. His first competition was the 2012 Bodybuilding.com FIT USA Event in Boise, Idaho.
"I think they picked 16 or 20 of us from the nation," Abdul-Saboor told NBC Olympics. "I ended up winning the people's choice award. So that was everybody over the nation voting for which contestant they liked, their physique best."
Abdul-Saboor was invited to compete in bigger shows but didn't have the money. He moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, where he worked for Performance Training Inc. as a personal trainer and speed-agility quickness coach. In 2014, a Facebook video of Abdul-Saboor got the attention of Dr. Brad DeWeese, a professor at Eastern Tennessee State University and former head of physiology for the U.S. Olympic Committee.
"Having coached a large portion of Olympians in the sport, it was obvious that Hakeem had the power and physical build to be successful in bobsled," DeWeese told NBC Olympics.
DeWeese invited Abdul-Saboor to Johnson City, Tennessee, for a dryland bobsled combine. He performed flawlessly on each event. DeWeese went on to coach Abdul-Saboor to three national team designations and finally to the U.S. Olympic team.
Abdul-Saboor's bobsledding career launched in 2015 when he competed in the Minor League North American Cup. By January 2016, he had competed in three World Cups.
In December, Abdul-Saboor and two-time Olympian Nick Cunningham placed fifth in the two-man bobsled at the World Cup in Austria – the best finish for any U.S. sled at an international event this season.
On Jan. 15, Abdul-Saboor shared via Instagram that he would continue to represent the United States – but this time at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
"I am honored to announce that I was named to the 2018 Olympic bobsled team and will be representing Team USA in February," Abdul-Saboor said. "I'm still at a loss for words right now but am excited to continue to grind it out and work hard to be my best at the Olympic Games."
Abdul-Saboor, 30, will compete in the two-man and four-man bobsledding events, which begin Feb. 19.