Going the Distance

BACK IN FRONT:  Mohamed Sidique ‘15  (foreground) has overcome obstacles that would have sidelined most competitors.
Doug Austin
BACK IN FRONT: Mohamed Sidique ‘15 (foreground) has overcome obstacles that would have sidelined most competitors.

Mohamed Sidique ’15 does things in a hurry.

He became captain of the Brandeis track-and-field squad as a sophomore — a fast rise made all the more unusual since, of the nearly 35 meets the team has had since 2011, Sidique has been able to compete in only seven.

And in 2013, Sidique became one of the youngest winners of the Department of Athletics’ Morry Stein Award of Valor, honored because of circumstances that required him to grow up incredibly quickly.

Born in the United States, Sidique spent his early childhood in war-torn Sierra Leone, returning to the U.S. at age 9 with his mother, Mariama Conteh. For two years, he lived on New York City’s streets. For a time, he lived with his brother, who was attending college in Providence. Finally, Sidique established a stable foothold, enrolling in St. Raymond High School for Boys in the Bronx.

Sidique played basketball at St. Raymond for two years, then, as a senior, he joined the track team, where his natural abilities helped him become a good sprinter and a standout in the long and triple jumps. He won New York City and state championships in events he had never even tried before his senior year.

Around that time, his high-school friend Suahd Iddrissu ’09 convinced him to apply to Brandeis.

“I was looking for a place where not only would the school affect you, but you could affect the school,” Sidique says. “Brandeis was the only place I ever got the sense that students were leaders, not just amongst themselves, but in every office around campus.”

Initially denied admission, Sidique was so confident Brandeis was the place for him that he entered through the Myra Kraft ’64 Transitional Year Program (TYP), which allowed him to take a step back from athletics, regain his academic focus and get involved in campus life.

The summer before his “official” freshman year, Sidique began training to get back into competitive shape. Though he had felt something tweak in his knee during a pickup basketball game, he still ran and jumped in Brandeis’ first four indoor track-and-field meets. But something wasn’t right, so he saw a doctor.

Sidique had torn his ACL, MCL, meniscus and patellar tendon. “How are you even walking?” the doctor asked.

Before Sidique could have his surgery, fate played an exceptionally cruel trick. On April 14, 2012 — Sidique’s 22nd birthday — his father, Hassan, died in Sierra Leone. Hassan was a top diplomat there, a liaison between the Christian and Muslim factions. “There was so much more he could have done, and so much that I could have learned from him,” says Sidique, who returned to Africa to deal with his father’s death.

Six months later, Sidique’s mother died suddenly while on a trip to Africa. He recalls going blank when he learned he had lost the woman who raised him, whose faith in him had never wavered.

“It is still hard,” Sidique says. “I was always taught that your service to others is the rent you pay for your time here on Earth. I feel like the person I was meant to serve fully, I lost.”

Sidique rehabbed his knee only to be sidelined again, this time by a broken pubic bone, which may have been caused by stress from his previous injuries. Despite being limited to three meets in 2012-13, his attitude never wavered.

“My mother taught me that just because you work, it doesn’t mean you are automatically going to reach your goal,” he says. “If you didn’t win one race, you need to work harder to win the next one.”

So, with his junior season now under way, Sidique is mentally making room in his trophy case for UAA and New England awards. The rest of Division III is on notice.

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