January 21, 2014

Captain Mohamed Sidique '15 overcomes obstacles to return to action

Brandeis track and field has entered nearly 35 meets since 2011. Junior Mohamed Sidique (Mo to his friends) has competed in seven of them.

He was also named a team captain – as a sophomore.

Sidique is a Community Advisor who admits he has trouble saying no to campus organizations who ask for his time to represent a worthy cause.

In 2013, Sidique became one of the youngest winners of the Department of Athletics' Morry Stein Award of Valor. He was honored because of circumstances that required him to grow up faster than anyone could imagine.

Born in the United States, Sidique grew up in the war-torn African nation of Sierra Leone. At the age of nine, he returned to the U.S. with his mother Mariama Conteh to escape the civil war, using his status as an American citizen. His first two years after returning were spent living on the streets, learning to speak English in New York. After that, he had to live with his brother for a time at college in Providence. Mo was final able to establish a stable foothold in high school, when he enrolled at St. Raymond's School for Boys in the Bronx.

Sidique played basketball for the St. Raymond's Ravens for two years before taking a break to focus on his academics. As a senior, it was his cousin, Jeremiah Kobena – now a wide receiver on the Syracuse University football team – who convinced him to put his athleticism to use on the track team. Sidique's work ethic made him an adequate sprinter, but his natural abilities pointed him towards the horizontal jumps – long and triple. He won New York City and State Championships and was among the top performers on the entire East Coast in events he never even tried before his senior year of high school. He started the year jumping around 20 feet, but by the end of the year when the hard work and talent combined, he was leaping 23 feet.

His search for college included several larger, scholarship-level schools, but Sidique knew that advancing past high school and being successful – both as a professional and as a person – was worth more than the cost of attendance. It was discussions with high school friend Suahd Iddrissu (Brandeis '09) that led him to Brandeis. Despite not stepping foot on campus until he was enrolled in 2010 as part of the Myra Kraft '64 Transitional Year Program, Sidique saw exactly what he was looking for in Brandeis.

"I was looking for a place where, not only would the school affect you, but you could affect the school," Sidique said. "Brandeis was the only place I ever got that sense, that students were leaders, not just amongst themselves, but in every office around campus."

Though he was initially denied admission, Sidique was so confident that Brandeis was the place for him that he decided to join the TYP program, a decision he calls "life-changing." It allowed him a chance to take a step back from athletics, regain focus on academics and become a bigger part of campus life in general. In his second TYP semester, Sidique's competitive juices kicked in. After a brief flirtation with a basketball tryout, he decided the track was where he could make the biggest impact athletically. He started training to get back into running and jumping shape the summer before his official freshman year, working in the admissions office in order to stay focused on Brandeis.

Sidique's return to the track was short-lived. Though he felt something tweak in his knee during a summer game of pick-up basketball, he still ran and jumped in the first four meets of the 2011-12 indoor season. His numbers were down in those meets – jumps back in the 20-foot range, slow times in the 400-meter run – but he couldn't explain the decline, so he decided to see a doctor.

Sidique had torn his ACL, MCL, meniscus and patellar tendon. "How are you even walking?" the physician asked. "You have a football injury," said the athletic trainers.

The injury was diagnosed in February and surgery was slated for later in the semester, but fate played one of the cruelest tricks possible. On April 14, 2012 – his 22nd birthday – Sidique's father died in Sierra Leone. Mo returned to Africa to deal with the fallout of Hassan Sidique's passing. Though he didn't know his father well – the two hadn't seen each other on a regular basis with Mo living in the U.S. and Hassan living in Africa – a role model was taken from Mo's life. Hassan was one of the top diplomats in Sierra Leone, a liaison between the Christian and Muslim population of that country. "There was so much more he could have done, and so much that I could have learned from him," Sidique felt.

If losing his father on his birthday wasn't difficult enough, later that October, Sidique's mother died equally suddenly, while on a trip back to Africa. Instead of being able to put the initial pain of losing his father behind him, Mo was forced to deal with an even greater loss.

He recalls going blank when learning that he had lost the woman who raised him and whose faith in him never wavered. Sidique looked forward to being able to look after the one person who always looked after him, provide for the woman who provided for him.

"It is still hard. I think, 'What am I working for?'" he said.  "I was always taught, your service to others is the rent that you pay for your time here on earth. I feel like the person I was meant to serve fully, I lost."

After missing the better part of the Fall 2012 semester, Sidique came back, ready to put it behind him and work in the memory of his parents. He worked hard enough to recover from his knee injury in February of 2013 only to be sidelined again, this time with a broken pubic bone. Doctors are unsure what exactly caused it, but stress from previous injuries may have been a factor. Despite being limited to three meets in 2012-13, his attitude never wavered.

"My mother taught me that just because you work, it doesn't mean you are automatically going to reach your goal," he said.  "But if you work that hard, why would you want to see someone else with it? If you didn't win one race, you need to work harder to win the next one."

With his junior season underway, Sidique hopes to channel his inner "jealous athlete." He's supremely confident it will happen. He's already made room in his mental trophy case for UAA and New England championships in the long jump and triple jump. The rest of Division III is on notice.

-- by Adam Levin '94, sports information director