She wore long pants year-round to cover her prosthetic and kept it on even when it caused her pain

There was a time when Femita Ayanbeku worried desperately about what people thought about her.

Ayanbeku lost her right leg in a car accident when she was 11, and for years she tried, at her own expense, to make everyone else feel comfortable with her disability.

“I was insecure about my physical appearance and didn’t wear shorts,” Ayanbeku tells people.

Femita Ayanbeku

At 18, she finally decided that she wanted to be more confident and love herself, so she wore shorts for the first time since her life-changing surgery. “I didn’t care who was looking at me,” she reflects now.

At the Paralympics in Tokyo, 29-year-old Ayanbeku cares a lot about who will be watching, but for very different reasons. Her six siblings, friends, and personal training clients in Quincy, Massachusetts, will be cheering her on from home as she competes in the 100m and 200m track events.

“They’ve seen where I came from, everything that I’ve been through. They’re all just really happy that I’m living a fulfilling life,” she says.

Ayanbeku’s racing career started at 23 when a non-profit gifted her a custom-fit running blade, and it was love at first sight. The blade felt more natural to her than any prosthetic she’d worn before, and when she ran, it felt like she had two legs again. “I chase that feeling every time I run,” she says.

Femita Ayanbeku

Soon after she got her running blade, Ayanbeku met her coach, and her career quickly took off. Weekly training turned into local competitions, the Paralympic trials, and Rio’s Paralympic Games in 2016. Brand new to the sport, she describes it as an overwhelming experience.

“Rio was like the sixth race I had ever done in my life,” she says.

This time around in Tokyo, Ayanbeku is a more experienced competitor and more prepared. She intends to run the best race of her life and possibly break the world record in the 100m, which begins preliminary rounds on Thursday.

“When they gave me that blade [for the first time], I wanted everyone to know it was for a reason, and they gave it to the right person,” she says.