Olympian Kriss Akabusi joins injured veteran Mat to create inspirational podcast
TV star and Olympian Kriss Akabusi has revealed how faith, friendships and the Army kept him on track for success and happiness.
The 62-year-old could have been tempted into a chaotic life of crime after spending his early years in a children’s home where he saw friends end up in crime.
He credits the interventions of key people at landmarks in his life in a poignant podcast that examines how to build strength and resilience through dark times.
The influence of a family who offered to take him in, a policeman who dealt with a shoplifting incident with compassion, an Army sergeant who nurtured his athletic talent and his faith in God all helped him develop as a person and a competitor.
Kriss, who became a motivational speaker after his athletics career, was joined in the podcast by 29-year-old army veteran Mat Armitage, who suffered a life-changing injury.
But he tells the Resilience Sessions podcast - which brings together members of Blesma, the limbless veterans, and public figures in an inspirational podcast series – that success came at a price.
“From my time in a children’s home, through the military, through sport, my coping strategy was to become very self-centred,” he says. “Deep down, I’m an emotional guy, a sentient and sensitive guy. But that was a casualty of time in the children’s home.
“I loved the Army but it was a tough place and you had to step up but the negative side of that was when it came to my family, or my significant other, well, nothing is going to faze me and you can’t emotionally bully me.
“That may sound like I’m being proud but I’m not because I think what it has done is destroy my ability to relate intimately with people.”
Kriss came to England from Nigeria with his mother, father and younger brother but then became separated from his parents after they returned and became trapped by a civil war. Kriss and his brother then went to a children’s home in north London.
The trauma was compounded by the lure of petty shoplifting and missing school but Kriss managed to stay out of trouble after being let off by a sympathetic policeman and through the support of a family that offered to look after him.
But joining the Army was the real turning point and he adds: “I knew that if I had gone down a nicking path, I'm going to be locked up. I couldn’t take care of myself, there was no way I could live in a big city, cook, clean and look after myself – there's no way I could be responsible for that sort of stuff. So I was drawn to the army. The army was my saviour. If I hadn’t been in the Army, I would have been bang in trouble.”
His athletic talent was recognised by a drill sergeant who bought him his first pair of running spikes and entered him for events.
“Because I was in a children's home and wasn't going home on weekends, he saw me hanging around and he really took me under his wing and developed a training programme for me,” he tells the podcast.
He became Army junior champion and then progressed to the world stage, winning Olympic Games silver and World Championship gold medals in a glittering career and his Christian faith played a huge role in his belief that he could achieve.
“I really believed God had called me to be this athlete and run for his glory, to spread his word,” he adds. “And once I knew that God had me in his right and left hand, he would make it possible for me to express my athletic ability and give him the glory.”
The Resilience Sessions grew from the Making Generation R campaign, which trained members of Blesma to tell their incredible stories of overcoming adversity to 100,000 front line workers, first responders and young people. The podcast is featured on The Samaritans wellbeing app for Veterans and is being used as a wellbeing resource for NHS staff.
Jon Bryant, Blesma’s chief executive, said: “The podcast is moving and empowering. Our Members have been through hugely traumatic experiences and had to deal with life-changing injuries and all their effects.
“They want to help others to develop the same sort of resilience that they have had to.”
Alice Driver, founder of The Drive Project which devised the programme and presenter of The Resilience Sessions, added: “The podcasts are inspirational. You feel like you are part of the conversation between individuals who have been through tough challenges but have come out the other end and are able to talk about how they did it.
“The podcasts show there is so much common ground no matter what challenges are in front of us and that we can come through it and be ok.”
The series, with a new episode every week through January, features NASA astronaut and Commander of the ISS Steve Swanson, singer and comedienne Judith Owen, Chief Fire Officer and psychologist Sabrina Cohen-Hatton, and former SAS officer Billy Billingham MBE, who stars in the hit TV adventure series Who Dares Wins.
Listen to the podcast here: smarturl.it/resiliencesessions
Watch the podcast here: The Resilience Sessions YouTube Channel
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The podcast is funded by Blesma, The Limbless Veterans charity and delivered by The Drive Project, an award-winning creative social enterprise.