After missing out on Sochi 2014, Akwasi Frimpong turned disappointment into opportunity and launched a new career selling vacuum cleaners to fund his Olympic dream.

For Akwasi Frimpong, giving up on his Olympic dream was never an option.

“When I was eight years old, living in Ghana, my grandma said, ‘Akwasi, what you need for success is already in you. It is a matter of believing in yourself, having the will to work hard, and never giving up.’ So every time that I have wanted to give up, I remembered that and knew that I had to keep going.”

There have certainly been times when Frimpong could have been forgiven for ending his quest to compete on the Olympic stage, having twice missed out on a place at the Games in two different sports.

An injury denied him the chance to compete as a sprinter for the Netherlands at London 2012; but he then switched his attention to bobsleigh and the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014.

When he was again left watching those Games at home, Frimpong still refused to give up. Instead, he took time off from training to start his own business selling vacuum cleaners, which helped him fund his next Olympic quest: a place at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 as Ghana’s first skeleton racer.

The end of a dream
“After I missed out on selection for the Dutch bobsleigh team at the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014, I had an opportunity to stay in Europe and continue competing. But I decided that I wanted to move back to the United States [where I studied at university] and find a job. I had been chasing my dream of becoming an Olympian, but I just needed to have a break. I also needed to earn some money because I had spent so much on my Olympic dream.”

Financial challenges
“The biggest challenge is, obviously, that I’m not a professionally paid athlete. I’m doing an amateur sport. I’m not an American football player or basketball player, so I don’t get paid in my sport. That’s one of the biggest things. The challenge is that I can’t really provide for my family the way I want to. That has been the biggest thing, obviously.”

New opportunities
“I eventually found a job as a vacuum cleaner salesman. I hadn’t even heard of these vacuum cleaners when I started out; but I needed to be able to pay for my Olympic dream, so I had to find something. They cost around 2,000 dollars each, but in my first month, I sold 19 in 15 days. Then in my second month, I sold 32 in 18 days and became the number one salesman in the US. I realised that I had a talent for it. It normally takes about three or four years before people have their own distributorship business, but it took me five months. Now, I own my own sales business and get to hire people, instead of selling door-to-door myself.”

How sport helped me in business
“The two biggest things were discipline and persistency. I’d be knocking on houses, trying to sell vacuums, and people would slam their doors in my face. That was really hard, but you just have to keep going and, eventually, you find somebody who wants to buy a vacuum from you. Most people quit after the first or second door. I just kept going. You’ve got to remember that there’s somebody out there who needs a vacuum. You just have to find that person.”

Making time for training
“When I decided to chase my Olympic dream again in skeleton, I was still working selling vacuums, so it was difficult to fit training around that. But the good news was that I was my own boss, so I could set my own schedule. I could put the work in when I needed to and then focus on my training. As I got closer to qualifying for the Olympic Winter Games, however, I did have to downsize my business and put that to one side for a while. I’m my own boss – just like in skeleton – and I was taking control of my own life, just like being in charge of my sled.”

Not being afraid of failure
“I believe that if failure was always the last step, there wouldn’t be something called success. People fail before they become successful as an entrepreneur, as an athlete, as a parent, whatever. We all have to fail before we can actually get to where we need to be. Failing is part of the whole journey, so people should not be afraid to fail, as long as they get up and keep moving forward.”

Going back to work
“I will get back into it in March, after PyeongChang. That’s the magic of being an entrepreneur – you can work really hard, save some money, take a little break and then come back into it. You can always be an entrepreneur, but you cannot always be an Olympian.”