by: William Morgan-Palmer
Circling the blocks, Lewis Folli looks ahead at the hurdles that lay between him and the finish line. As the runners are called to their marks, he crouches and fixes his spikes into the blocks, first the left then the right. The crowd quiets for the start of the race but not much is expected of Folli. Coming into the Indoor Track and Field Conference Championship Folli was seated as 6th in his event, the 60m hurdles, only expected to contribute one point to the team’s overall score. Expectations had never held him back before. 8.63 seconds was all it would take for him to silence the critics, defy expectations, and contribute four additional points for the team as they took the conference championship.
Shortly after all the medals had been awarded and the victory pictures had been taken, Lewis was back to work, preparing for the outdoor season. In truth, he never stopped working. Whether he is breaking personal records on the track, leading campus tours as a student ambassador, or volunteering in the community alongside his fraternity brothers, Folli demonstrates a resilient work ethic that allows him to defy expectations and rise above the crowd as a model student athlete.
Once you have heard Lewis’ story and the number of obstacles he has overcome, there is something oddly poetic about the fact that he is a hurdler. The strange reality of being a student athlete at a 5,000 student, Division 3 University is that people know of Lewis but not many truly know him. Double majoring in marketing and management, a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity inc., and working as a university tour guide, Lewis effortlessly juggles a schedule that would crush the average student, and he does it with a smile. “I don’t think I do too much. In high school I actually did even more. I’m just passionate about getting involved and serving the community.” This is one of the most impressive aspects of Lewis’s character. In the midst of all that he does and all the work he puts in he’s always smiling. After hearing his compelling origin story and his evident passion for personal growth it is clear the Folli is more than just the 4th place medal winner in the 60m hurdles. He is an inspiration to his peers and a model of determination.
Things like determination, work ethic, and grit don’t just appear in a person’s character, they are developed. This is true of sports and true of life. Folli’s unique determination is the product of a unique origin story. Folli was born in Togo, Africa and moved to America in October 2006. When his family arrived they had to work tirelessly to transition to this new life style. His father had to go back to school to re-earn his degrees that did not transfer. Folli, who spoke little English, had to work to adjust socially and academically. Work has been the constant refrain in Folli’s life. “I actually learned English in six months, mainly from watching TV. I already loved American movies so when I got here I completely indulged myself in the culture.” 10 years later Folli speaks three languages (English, French, and Ewe), excels as a sophomore business student, and works as the face of the university conducting tours as a Student Ambassador in the office of admission. No small feat for the ten year old that learned English from watching Nickelodeon. Given his athletic build it is no surprise that Folli would come to find a home in sports. After hearing about his upbringing it is equally clear that he is more than the average runner. His unshakable motivation has earned him a fourth place medal. It has shaped him into a notable campus leader, a promising business student, and someone bound to make a difference in the lives of those around him.
Folli started running his sophomore year of high school. Despite his rough start he quickly discovered his potential as a long sprinter and a hurdler so he began to commit more of his time and effort to getting faster. Coming to college Folli was looking for a chance to grow athletically, and he found that in Coach Wingard’s program at CNU. Here’s the thing about collegiate track and field, divisions don’t really matter, “It’s all about the times and the records. If you are faster than everyone else it doesn’t matter where you are from.” Put in the work, get over the hurdles, and beat everyone else to the finish line.
This is the simple yet driven mentality that pushed Folli to assert himself as one of the dominant hurdlers in the Capital Athletic Conference. He may only be a sophomore but anyone who has interacted with him will agree that he is committed to personal growth and destined for success both on and off the track.
For Folli, it is not about praise or awards; he is one of those unique people who legitimately loves the grind. Athletically it has manifest as his day-to-day hunt for a new Personal Record (PR). “There’s something great about that terrible week of workouts that turns into a PR that weekend.” There is a love for competition and a love for the grinding process that may or may not result in success. This workhorse mentality is evident off the track as well. While discussing his role as a leader in different areas of campus Folli expressed a pinpoint focus on personal growth. Taking a second to ponder his future at CNU and identify some of his goals as a member of this community, he states, “I just want to be better than I was yesterday. Whether I take on more involvement or not. I just want to have grown in those areas by the time I’ve finished my four years here.” Each day is another opportunity to work harder and get better.
After talking with Folli for about an hour one thing is abundantly clear: he does not take anything for granted. His perspective is grounded by his upbringing. Being apart of a family that worked so hard to transition into this country has tripled his work ethic. As Folli continues to grind through his day to day work load he carries the memories of his father having to re-do most of his education and the unshakeable resolve he had to maintain in order to support and create a new life for his family. His drive is rooted in something much greater than track stardom – it is rooted in a genuine desire for personal growth.
For a sprinter, Folli runs life like a marathon. No matter who squares up next to him in the blocks he’s running this race against himself. He is constantly grinding to be better than yesterday on and off the track. He knows and expects that there will be obstacles as there has been his entire life, but for him they are just apart of the grind that leads to another PR. There is no shaking this man’s determination, and nothing can slow him down. If you lined up all of the criticism, misguided expectations, and adversity in his life you would be in for a show because Folli doesn’t just overcome obstacles, he hurdles them.