- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 13, 2016

OPELIKA, Ala. (AP) - From humble beginnings come some of the world’s most talented individuals. That message rang true for Opelika native Monzavous “Rae” Edwards when he learned he’d been selected for Team Nigeria’s track and field team for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

“It was crazy because I knew that there wasn’t going to be many of us that would actually make the standard,” the 35-year-old, 100-meter dash champion said. “So once I made it, I understood that the chances of other athletes hitting that standard wasn’t as high. From June 17 until Saturday, I was just kind of trying not to get excited.

“I actually was in bed and then my roommate came in and he was like, ‘You’ve got a meeting at 7 a.m.’ I was like, ‘A meeting for what?’ He said, ‘Everybody that’s on the team.’ I said, ‘How do you know?’ He said, ‘They just put the list up,’ at 3 a.m. So I jumped up out of bed, went over there and went into the lobby and, sure enough, they had it written down.

“I looked at it and number three, there it was. I was like, ‘OK, now it’s official.’ Now I’m crying. I texted my mom; I texted my dad; I texted my sister, and then all of my social media fans. Then they went crazy,” he said.

Edwards, who graduated from Opelika High School in 1999, said he has worked to achieve this goal for the last 16 years.

“I was born and raised here, in Opelika, my entire 17 years until I graduated. My senior year of high school here, I won the state championship in the 100-meter dash. After I won state, I got offered scholarships all over the place. So I left there and I actually went to junior college first.

“I went up to Bevill State, which is in Hamilton, Alabama. While I was there as a freshman, I ended up winning an indoor 200 and I was a double champion outdoor 100, 200 and that same year was U.S. Junior Champion in the 100, 200. I was ranked No. 1 in the world. After that, track and field just kind of took off. Every year from ‘99 on,” he said, later recounting the milestones that led him to Nigeria.

“I made my first USA team in 2000. After that, I made the USA team in 2003 …. In 2006, I was hurt. In 2007, I made Team USA again. In the 2008 Olympic year, I got hurt. But by 2009, I made the USA team again.

“In 2010, same story. In 2011, same story. In 2012 is actually where the Nigerian part started to take over. In 2012, I got hurt the week before the Olympic trials. I actually didn’t make the team that year at all. Period. The same thing had happened in 2008 when I got hurt. It was like a curse. In 2012 I got hurt, and then in 2013 I broke my jaw. I had a mild seizure in January, so that took me out for the entire track season,” Edwards said.

But what seemed like a setback at the time ended up being a pivotal moment in Edwards’ athletic career.

“Track and field is just like any other sport where you can trade teams, so to speak …. Nigeria was having what they called ‘Rebuilding Nigerian Athletics’ and in order to switch teams, you’ve got to sit out for two years. It was almost like it was destined for me to go there because I had made Team USA literally every year, and when one of the representatives had gotten in touch with me, it was like, ‘Would you be interested in it?’ Especially with me being somebody of my caliber having been on so many USA teams, it would automatically help build that program.

“In my mind, I was like, ‘You know what, I’ve done so much as far as America goes. I’ve made enough teams.’ How cool would it be to do like LeBron did and go to another country and go to a team that isn’t as strong as Team USA and help rebuild that team?” he said.

So far, Edwards’ contributions have been successful.

“I’ve made the Olympic team for them and I’ll be representing in the 100-meter dash for them at the games, so it’s almost like my reasoning for doing it has unfolded. I also wanted to be going out not just in history, but as an athlete who’s actually competed for two different countries on a major level and been to literally every championship there is to go to,” he said.

Edwards found out he qualified for the Olympics on June 17, after meeting the 10:16 Olympic standard for the 100 meter dash, he said. He was then required to compete in the Nigerian Olympic trials.

“It was already almost cemented that I was going to be selected, but it couldn’t be official until they released the roster. They released the roster Saturday night in Nigerian time, so Friday morning in America,” he said.

Edwards’ mother, Denise, said she wept when she got the news.

“I cried. I literally cried and I said, ‘Thank you, Lord.’ I mean, it’s like wow. It’s a dream come true for him,” she said.

Now, Edwards is preparing to travel to Rio. The 2016 Summer Olympics opening ceremony is slated for Aug. 5.

“The one most encouraging this is being able to showcase that we are such a small town and you hear those stories all the time about how it’s harder to make it out of a small town, which technically is correct. I like to say the reason for that is because of resources. There’s a lot of talented kids who have been in Opelika that are still here now. The main thing you’ve got to realize is that once you set your mind to a goal, no matter if it’s in track, football, basketball, school, engineering - whatever - use your hometown as that birthplace. The one thing I do know about Opelika is we raise great people,” said Edwards.


Information from: Opelika-Auburn News, https://www.oanow.com/

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