Samsung Seun Adebiyi

You probably haven't heard of Seun Adebiyi. He never made the Olympics despite trying in two sports: Swimming and skeleton. Adebiyi wasn't on the athlete list in PyeongChang this month, but his mark was all over the Games.

Nigeria sent its first three athletes to the Winter Olympics, consisting of a two-women bobsled team -- Seun Adigun and Ngozi Onwumere -- and one skeleton racer -- Simidele Adeagbo. Adigun and Onwumere finished 20th. So did Adeagbo.

In other words, they finished in last place in their events.

But for Nigeria and for Adebiyi, this was a victory that has taken decades to be achieved. After all, Adigun, Onwumere and Adeagbo also represented the federation Adebiyi, who carried the Olympic torch in January, created himself.

"I just got to be one small piece of a bigger picture and that's good enough for me," he says.

Adebiyi, 34, was born in Nigeria, but settled in Huntsville, Alabama, when he was 6, as his mother, Bimpe, got a teaching job at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

"There was a black dean there who kind of took her under his wing," Adebiyi says. "She was the only female faculty in the department and the only black member of the faculty. Unfortunately, he had a heart attack and immediately, she was fired after she didn't have protection.

"She's Oxford-educated and worked with NASA. She's literally a rocket scientist. But she and I would be in the field picking crops to make a living. She never let that stop her."

Bimpe eventually established a tutorial center for children and made a life for her family in Alabama. Meanwhile, Seun became an exceptional swimmer. In 2000, Adebiyi was in high school, and by representing Nigeria, he had a direct path to the Sydney Olympics but fractured his spine three months before the Games. He then attended University of Pittsburgh and tried out in 2004, missing the Athens Games in the 50-meter freestyle by a tenth of a second.

Adebiyi started attending Yale Law School in 2006 and decided not to try out for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. But the Olympic spirit never left him. In 2009, Adebiyi was finishing his final year at Yale and working "more or less" full time at Goldman Sachs, commuting three days a week from New Haven to New York City. Most people would take this life and run. Adebiyi decided he would give the Olympics another shot. This time, he would try a winter sport: Skeleton.

Goldman Sachs offered Adebiyi a job and he issued an unusual request:

"I accepted the job and I asked for a transfer to Salt Lake City," he says. "There are only two skeleton tracks in the U.S., one in Salt Lake City and one in Upstate New York, so I wanted to live in Salt Lake City and be able to work during the day and then after work, go to the skeleton."

Seun Adebiyi Jumping

Goldman Sachs was onboard, but Adebiyi's body was not. One week after his law school graduation, he was diagnosed with lymphoma. Shortly after that, doctors also found leukemia in Adebiyi.

But again, the Olympic dream did not die.

"Even while I was doing chemo, I was training," Adebiyi says with a laugh. "I was in the hospital for eight weeks. I actually got in a huge argument with the doctor. I snuck out of the hospital and was trying to run laps around the hospital. They wouldn't let me outside of the leukemia ward, so I started doing push-ups and lunges while attached to an IV pole.

"As soon as they let me out, I was back at the skeleton track. That horrified my doctor because with leukemia, any injury you have can make it worsen. I said, 'What's the worst that can happen? I already have cancer.'"

Adebiyi did some research and found that African-Americans who need a bone marrow or cord blood transplant find a match roughly 17 percent of the time. On the contrary, Caucasians have a 70 to 80 percent chance of finding a match.

So Adebiyi decided to do something for himself and those back in his birth country. He scheduled the first-ever bone marrow drive in Nigeria. Of course, doctors advised he stay home in the U.S.. Adebiyi respectfully ignored the advice.

On the day Adebiyi was scheduled to leave the U.S., a transplant match was found in America. He got on the plane anyway and had the operation when he came back to the U.S. Two years later, Adebiyi established the first bone marrow registry in Nigeria.

Adebiyi has been in remission since having the transplant in 2010. As his health improved, he went back to skeleton and focused on 2014. And just when Adebiyi was close, disaster struck again.

"The summer before, I was doing some offseason training and my Achilles tendon snapped. I think it was the accumulation of all the trauma and high intensity my body had been through and it just broke."

Adebiyi considered another run at skeleton and swimming after his injury, but he was never able to return to full-time training. It's worth noting, during the past decade, Adebiyi has also practiced law, been a consultant for Bain & Company and worked for the American Cancer Society. He earned a pilot license 10 years ago and he is currently in flight school, hoping to establish a new career in the air.

"The Olympics has always been the central focus of my life, so there was a big question mark as to what I'd do next and what I'd find interesting and challenging," he says. "I said, 'Well I like to fly, I like to travel. I'll see where this goes.'"

Before this Olympics, Adebiyi finally got his chance to be part of the Games. As part of Samsung's "Do What You Can't" campaign, Adebiyi was chosen to carry the Olympic torch in Seoul. It was not the situation he always imagined, but his perseverance was finally rewarded.

"Being part of the Olympic torch relay gave me a real sense of closure," Adebiyi says. "There's a dark side to being an immigrant. There's a tremendous amount of pressure to succeed. On one hand, that gives you a lot fuel and determination. On the other hand, I had really high expectations for myself. No matter how hard I tried, I didn't make it to the Olympics. Passing the torch was symbolic of letting go."

Seun Adebiyi And Mascot

Although he was not the one in uniform, Adebiyi could watch the Nigerian athletes with pride. They competed for the federation he hoped to represent as the first Nigerian in the Winter Olympics. Adeagbo, the skeleton racer, consulted Adebiyi on equipment and training questions before making her push to PyeongChang. Adebiyi is not about to join the IOC, but that's where he sees a role in the Olympic movement.

"There are a lot of people who don't even have a federation and that's where I think I can add more value," he says.

It wasn't on the medal stand, but Adebiyi got his Olympic moment on a Samsung campus in Seoul. Lymphoma, leukemia, a fractured spine, a torn Achilles tendon and a devastatingly close tryout could not stop Adebiyi from a variation of his ultimate goal.

"Somehow, things have a way of working out if you're willing to go out on a limb and give everything for your dream," Adebiyi says. "At a certain point, the outcome doesn't even matter anymore because you'll know that you did your best. It's really just a question of identifying those demons in our own mind that are holding us back from what really want to be."

Good luck to Adebiyi on being a pilot.

Or maybe on a last-minute attempt to qualify for Beijing 2022.

-- Follow Jeff Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband. Like Jeff Eisenband on Facebook.

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