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Para Sprinter Femita Ayanbeku On Body Positivity, Overcoming Disappointment & Her Road to Paris

by Peggy Shinn

Femita Ayanbeku on a quote graphic promoting Mental Health Awareness Month.


Femita Ayanbeku spent a quarter of her life hiding the fact that she wears a prosthesis on her right leg—the consequence of a car accident when she was 11 years old. After the accident, kids in school made fun of her, and even her friends were scared to get close to her.


“That was probably the hardest part of my journey,” Ayanbeku said on FaceTime recently from the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee’s Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California.


“It was a struggle.”


In college, Ayanbeku overcame the insecurity she felt about her amputated limb and prosthesis, and now the two-time Paralympian is an outspoken advocate for body positivity. She frequently speaks to school and corporate groups, posts inspirational messages on social media, has participated in New York’s Fashion Week, and most recently, modeled for Victoria’s Secret. 


“I will say to anyone out there that does not feel beautiful…YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL!,” she posted recently on Instagram.


The 30-year-old talked about her journey to self-acceptance, how she has learned to overcome disappointment and her road to the Paralympic Games Paris 2024.




The summer between fifth and sixth grades, Ayanbeku was traveling in a car with her sisters and cousins when the car struck a guardrail and spun out of control. Ayanbeku was thrown from the car and sustained such serious injuries to her lower right leg that doctors had to amputate it.


Returning to school that fall as an 11-year-old with a prosthesis, Ayanbeku’s instinct was to hide it. She wore leggings and pants, no matter the weather (she grew out outside Boston, so winters were cold, but summers hot). She did not do sports, other than a short stint trying out for the basketball team. But her prosthesis hurt her leg in that sport.


Then as a freshman at the American International College in Springfield, Massachusetts, Ayanbeku’s roommate, Caitlihn, did not even notice her prosthesis. When Ayanbeku tried to tell her about it, Caitlihn responded, “So what?”

Quote graphic of Femita Ayanbeku. Quote reads, "I didn't have anyone to tell me, 'It's okay, you're different, but you're beautiful."


“You know what,” thought Ayanbeku, “you’re right. So what? There’s nothing I can do about it. I just have to accept it.”


Mostly, she was tired of hiding her disability.


“I’d had enough hot summers,” she said.


So, on spring break that year in New York with Caitlihn, Ayanbeku wore shorts for the first time since the accident and walked around Brooklyn. She did not care if anyone looked at her, she was going to own it. She posted a picture on Instagram.


“Everybody at school was like, ‘We saw you, we saw the picture, we’re so proud of you,’” she said. “It was relieving.”


Looking back, Ayanbeku said she wasted seven years of her life feeling insecure about her body.


“I didn’t have anyone to tell me, ‘It’s okay, you’re different, but you’re beautiful,’” she said.


Now, Ayanbeku strives to be the person to give amputees that message — and to tell everyone else to accept people for both their likenesses and differences. She started Limb-It-Less Creations, a non-profit to support and raise awareness for the amputee community and others with disabilities.


When she was introduced to the Paralympic movement at track nationals in June 2016 (a few months after she was given a blade for her advocacy work), Ayanbeku learned a whole new level of body acceptance. At para track nationals, she was surrounded by athletes who had varying disabilities, and everybody was “just rocking it.”


“It was like Disney World for me to see all of these other people, and everyone was owning it,” she explained. “It was a huge boost for me to be in that environment and realize I’m different to the rest of the world, but when I come here, I’m able to find a place where we’re all different and nobody cares.”


“And when we go out into the world, we have to project that,” she added.

Quote graphic of Femita Ayanbeku. Quote reads, "I have goals to execute and run the best race that I can. That is my goal. As long as I do that, I'm going to be happy with whatever happens."



Ayanbeku’s road to her first Paralympic Games in 2016 was rapid, coming less than a year after she first sprinted with a blade. She did not qualify for the final in the 100-meter dash but finished sixth in the 200 in Rio. Most importantly, she had the fire to improve.


But the Paralympian had to learn to balance progress with disappointment. She qualified for the 2017 World Para Athletics Championships, but then committed a false start in the 100 and was disqualified.


Two years later, she won a bronze medal in the 100 but not without pain. She had developed such a bad blister on her stump that doctors had to surgically lance it before her competition.


Then before heading to the Paralympic Games in Tokyo—postponed a year because of the Covid-19 pandemic—Ayanbeku set an American record in the 100 and had her eye on a Paralympic medal in Tokyo.


“Honestly, I was planning on winning,” she confessed.


But once in Tokyo, she tested positive for Covid and had to isolate for seven days. She was able to work out in her room and was released from isolation two days before competition. But she was mentally drained.


“I probably should have stayed off of social media,” she admitted. “But being in my room all day by myself, it was hard not to be on my phone. I was seeing all my competitors and teammates outside training. It was a whole mental game for me at that point, and it got the best of me.”


She did not advance to the finals in either the 100 or the 200.


From these disappointments, Ayanbeku has learned to “push through.”


“I learned you have to shake things off and not dwell on them,” she said. “You have to get ready for the next one.”




The next one for Ayanbeku are the Paris Paralympic Games in 2024.


This time, she has goals — particularly in the 100, where she would like to set a world record. But those goals are about process, not hardware.


“I have goals to execute and run the best race that I can,” she stated. “That is my goal. As long as I do that, I’m going to be happy with whatever happens.”


And if Ayanbeku could give advice to a young amputee looking to get into the Paralympic movement, she would pass on a message that applies to all humanity: “Do not expect it to be easy. But if you put in the work, nobody can put limits on the things that you can accomplish.”

An award-winning freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered seven Olympic Games. She has contributed to since its inception in 2008.