Editor’s Note — This is part of a weekly student conversation series highlighted as part of Black History Month on the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Medium page. The series will feature students who are making impacts on campus and hope to maintain that momentum in future careers.
Sadio Fenner is a pre-med nutrition, exercise and health science major with a minor in coaching from Colorado Springs, Colorado. Off the track, he’s passionate about giving back and serving as a leader for others.
You talk about striving to be more than “just a student or just an athlete.” Talk more about that and your work to help others.
All too frequently, labels are placed upon us that influence how people interact with us. More times than not these create limitations that impede our ability to be our most complete selves. I aspire to break down those barriers and stand to represent that we are more than what the labels say we are. One of the struggles of being an athlete is that sometimes, that’s all people can see you as. “You’re only in school because of your athletic ability and not for your intelligence” or “you’re only focused on sports and nothing else” is the narrative that I hear all too often. For some, these narratives become reality as no one tells them that they’re more than that, but I believe actions speak louder than words, so I’d rather show the world what we’re capable of rather than preach empty words. All it takes is one person to be a positive example for others to follow. If I can be that person, even if it’s for one person, that makes all the difference to me.
Where did you develop your passion for helping others?
Since I was little, my parents always placed an emphasis on helping those who need it. The lesson being that if you can make even a small difference in someone’s life, that impact is still significant and can have lasting positive effects. Having done a lot of community service and volunteering around both my hometown and within Nebraska has shown how true that belief is and is why I continue to try to be there for anyone who needs it.
Last year you received the Shane Osborn Student Leadership Award. Why is being a leader important for you?
Not everyone is given direction on how to accomplish their goals or maybe they don’t have anyone to look to for guidance. Leaders across the board serve to be catalysts for progress in both moving towards a goal but more importantly helping those around them grow as individuals. To be a part of that journey and persevere through adversity makes the reward of accomplishing that task that much more special. My favorite part of the leadership role is how humbling it is in the sense that you won’t have the solution to every challenge. That not only presents a chance to learn from the people in your space but also gives you an experience that you will carry the rest of your life.
On top of volunteering, cross country and your leadership positions (including with the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee), you’re balancing pre-med coursework. Where do you find your drive?
The competitive mentality trickles into sports, school and being a leader. I choose to live in the mindset of, “Anything worth having was never easy. If it was easy, everyone would have it and if everyone has it, it loses its value.” The road to your best life is not going to be a smooth one by any means but by striving to be the best version of myself, I’ll inherently push those around me to be the best version of themselves. To grow as an individual is valuable but to grow as a community is priceless.
What do you hope to accomplish in your lifetime?
I can’t say that I have any set specific goals as those seem to change the more I learn. I see myself coaching and pursuing a masters/doctorate in Exercise Physiology to hopefully impact athletes and the sports world in a positive way. I would hope that I continue to use my voice and experience to try to change the social environment around me for the better. If there was one thing I’d hope I achieved at the end of the road would be to have paid forward everything that was given to me so that the youth behind me develop to be better than myself and my predecessors to make a better today, not tomorrow.
Who inspires you?
One of the success stories that has really impacted my view on life was Jimmy Butlers. His life was anything but easy, from his family turning their back on him to no one taking interest in his work ethic on the court, he still chose to keep fighting and never shied away from the adversity. He truly is a living testament to the saying that you can accomplish anything you put your mind to. What really makes him so inspiring to me is that even after overcoming all the negative obstacles that were placed before him, he still strives to be an elite leader on the court and within the community. That speaks volumes to someone like me and many others as he stays true to himself outside of sports and acts to give underrepresented/underfunded/oppressed communities opportunities and experiences that weren’t available to him.
What is your advice to other students looking to make an impact?
Oftentimes people want to make a difference or act upon an idea, but don’t because of the fear of failure, criticism, or the work involved with getting it done. The biggest advice I would give would just be to act and take that first step towards starting the task. You won’t get anywhere with your feet planted to the ground so the first step is always the most important one, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem.