Maame Biney is a Ghana-born speedskater who came to the U.S. as a 5-year-old. She had never seen a pair of skates or even a block of ice in nature, yet she will soon represent the United States at the Winter Games.
Maame's dad, Kweku Biney, left Ghana in the 1980s, bopping around Europe before settling in the U.S. in 1984. He and his wife, who remained in Ghana, had two children, Maame — pronounced "MAH-may," and her brother, Nana Kojo. Maame came to visit her dad in 2005 when she was 5. "The following day, this girl told me, 'Daddy, I'm not going back to Ghana,'" Kweku told CNN.
Why not try skating?
A few months later, Kweku spotted a sign on his commute home from work that would change their lives. It read, "Learn to skate," and it was posted outside a rink near the Bineys' home in Reston, Virginia. Neither of them knew much about ice skating, in fact, Maame had never even heard of it, but she agreed to give it a try.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Maame started with figure skating classes, but her instructor told her father that she might be better suited to speedskating. Truer words were never spoken. At the U.S. Olympic Trials in December, Maame demolished the competition in the 500-meter event, securing her spot on the team and becoming the first African-American woman to represent the United States in Olympic speedskating.
Her response to making the team? "It's crazy awesome!" Try not to smile while you watch her gush in this interview with Andrea Joyce.
An attitude to emulate
Maame, who also qualified for the 1,500-meter speedskating event, is certainly making a name for herself on the ice. But it's her personality off the ice that has earned her such a loyal following. Even when she encounters a stressful situation — like when a Belgian skater's blade snapped, hit her in the face, and ripped open her lip and chin — Maame finds the humor and serves up a smile. She posted a pic of herself getting stitches with the caption, "Who won? You guys should see the blade."
Can this effervescent 18-year-old laugh her way to the podium at the Winter Olympics? Her fans certainly hope so, and I count myself as one.
One thing's for sure: Maame Biney's beaming smile will light up the Olympic Oval in a few days, even as her skates get all the attention.