HomeCommentUS-based athletics star Makusha lives the dream

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And while it’s nearly 13 000 km away, Harnden received a tip that there was a talented athlete that he should look at.

The tip was from a trustworthy source. His mother, Sandi, had watched countless track tournaments when Ken was competing in the 400m races in the 1980s and 1990s. She could recognise talent.

And she saw it in Makusha.

“My mom goes and watches every track meet, so I have pretty good sources,” Harnden said with a smile. “I hesitate to say that she does my recruiting for me, but she does a pretty good job.”

Harnden flew to Zimbabwe to see his parents and watched a number of track stand-outs. He knew right away that Makusha was a gifted sprinter, who just needed coaching.

Nobody could have guessed what Florida State would get. Makusha became a six-time National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) champion in his three seasons at Florida State University (FSU). In his final year, he won three NCAA outdoor titles and took home the Bowerman Award.

And Makusha, who at one point didn’t have the money to fly from Zimbabwe to Tallahassee, is now a promising contender in both the 100m races and long jump heading into the London Olympics.

The path to a championship is celebrated for the hours of hard work put in on the track, and year-after-year of refining the technique that shaves a fraction of a second or helps carry an athlete an extra centimetre in the sand pit.

But the journey was tougher –– and certainly more rewarding –– for Makusha because of where he came from.

Makusha remembers just a few years ago, that just getting to and from the track in Harare was an ordeal.

“I had a coach, but we didn’t really have the facilities like we have here,” Makusha said. “At FSU we have a nice track and we have trainers. In Zimbabwe it was just a track, with my coach and me: There’s no masseuse, there’s no athletic trainer, there’s no water and Powerade. There’s just water from the tap.
Makusha had an opportunity to leave that world and train in the US. And while he wanted to go to college and be a student-athlete, there was also a sense that the US was quite different — and a long way from home.

But Florida State had Harnden and another excellent sprinter, Brian Dzingai, another Zimbabwean who had just finished a stellar college career at FSU but was still training in Tallahassee. “He’s like my little brother,” Dzingai said.

The safety-net of having a coach and a friend at Florida State was there. And after Harnden met with Makusha’s parents, Rhoda and Andrew, any concerns were eased.

The difficult part of the journey was not mentally preparing for life in another hemisphere, it was  getting to Tallahassee.
A plane ticket from Zimbabwe to the US cost about US$1 500. Makusha saved up his per diems from junior-level international track tournaments and borrowed money from family and friends.

This is why Makusha appreciates everything — every aspect of what he has done since getting on that plane and getting  to the US.

“Even starting to think about that and looking at how things worked out in the end, I just look back and praise the Lord,” Makusha said. “I’m thankful that I’m here now. My life has totally changed from humble beginnings. Sometimes it’s hard to paint the picture,” he added.

It didn’t take long for coaches to realise just what they had in Makusha. He impressed jumps coach Dennis Nobles with his first leap in his first practice.
The rest of the US soon saw it too. Makusha won the long jump at the NCAA outdoors in 2008 as a freshman and competed in the Beijing Games that summer. He tied for fourth in the long jump at 8,19 m — missing a medal by just a centimeter.

“You just don’t go to the Olympics and place fourth as a freshman,” Nobles said. “He was special.”

Makusha kept stacking up titles, accumulating five NCAA outdoor and one NCAA indoor title in three years. But nothing compared to the breakthrough weekend last June at the NCAA outdoors when he won the 100, long jump and was part of Florida State’s 4x100m relay team that finished first. Makusha had claimed three NCAA titles in two days.

He set the college record in the 100m — a blazing 9,89 seconds. And Makusha became the fourth man to win the 100m and the long jump, joining the likes of Jesse Owens, Carl Lewis and DeHart Hubbard.

Track fans were able to watch Makusha’s performance in the US on TV and saw a talent who would again be an Olympian the following summer. In Zimbabwe, few people could see Makusha’s races or jumps.

“I think it took a while for people to actually know what he had done,” Dzingai said.

But word spread, and when time came for online voting for the Bowerman Award, an overwhelming number of votes came from Zimbabwe.
Makusha’s exploits on the track put him in elite company in Zimbabwe along with swimmer Kirsty Coventry, who won a combined seven Olympic medals in 2004 and 2008.

“It certainly put him on the radar as one of the premier athletes in Zimbabwe,” Harnden said. “These are the two best athletes our country has to offer.”

Makusha announced soon after his three wins that he would turn professional. But while Makusha would have the chance to sign a shoe-contract and participate with the world’s best in international competitions, he also was staying in Tallahassee.

He decided to push forward with his studies and in December earned his degree in applied economics. He would live in Tallahassee and continue to train with Harnden and Nobles.

When he was still in college, Makusha didn’t spend his scholarship money like most students. What he needed to live on, he spent. But he made sure to send a significant portion home to help his parents and his five siblings.

One of the benefits of being a professional is that he could sign a shoe -contract. The deal with Chinese manufacturer Li-Ning meant that Makusha could send more money back home to his family. Makusha finally bought a car for himself, but only because he is sharing an off-campus apartment with Dzingai.

“Nothing’s changed,” Harnden said. “He’s the same kid.”

And he hasn’t forgotten what it was like to be a kid in Zimbabwe. As part of his deal with Li-Ning, Makusha and his agent were able to negotiate a deal where he could purchase last year’s shoes for US$1 per pair and donate them to youngsters back home.

The London Games start July 27, and Makusha could have quite an impact on three events this summer.

He has qualified in the long jump, but he technically has not qualified in the 100 m yet, although a 10,11sec sprint at the Folksam Grand Prix in Sweden in August should get him in. Makusha also could compete on Zimbabwe’s 4x100m relay team.

The challenge with the 100m is daunting — the field is crowded with the likes of Usain Bolt, Tyson Gay, former FSU stand-out Walter Dix and  former Florida star Jeff Demps. Makusha acknowledges the challenge and the fact that he has been slowed recently by a hamstring injury.

He’s just 25 years, and despite accomplishing so much at such a young age, his best years on the track might be ahead .

“He’s one of the most special kids there is,” Harnden said. “He’s a talented athlete. He’s the hardest worker I know.” –– Fox Sports.

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