A Cross-Cultural Sports Experience – University of Ghana Cross-Country Team

By: Marissa Nicole Fortune – A UG exchange student from Canada/Switzerland
One of the most important qualities of sports is their unique ability to transcend divisions and foster unity among people. Regardless of language, nationality, culture, gender, age or ethnicity, people of all identities and backgrounds are brought together through the love of athletics. This is something I have always known, but I never truly understood the potential it has to create such meaningful bonds among people until I had the opportunity to compete for the University of Ghana at the Ghana Universities Sports Association (GUSA) Cross Country Championships in November of 2019.
When I started my exchange semester at the University of Ghana, I had travelled a little bit in Africa but had never lived in an African country or visited West Africa before. I am a Canadian by birth but study International Development in Geneva, Switzerland and coming to Ghana was the perfect way for me to broaden my horizons and immerse myself in a new context that would give me a deeper understanding of my program of study. My goals in completing my exchange were to learn, see and experience as much as I possibly could and to take full advantage of every opportunity that presented itself, so when I qualified to join the University of Ghana Cross Country team by placing in the Interhall 10km competition, I decided to run with it, so to speak.
I have always seen running as an individual sport, something personal and almost private, running was time that I spent alone and whatever I achieved or failed to achieve was on me. My view of this changed completely the second I was part of the University of Ghana team. I was immediately welcomed to the “Family of Stars” with open arms and ushered into an entirely new world. I got to see a different side of a sport that I had loved for years but had never had the ability to share with others in a meaningful way. Waking up at 5am to train as a team, eating meals together, discussing training and strategy, getting and giving advice on how to improve performance – all of these were new to me as I had always just run by and for myself.
When we left for the University of Energy and Natural Resources, Sunyani to compete at the GUSA Cross Country Championship, it was not only a new experience for me since I was the only foreigner on the team (and in the competition even), but also since it was my first time actually competing as a team in a sport that I had always considered to be an individual endeavour. As we ran the course, we stuck together, encouraged each other and motivated one another to keep pushing and by the time I crossed the finish line I had gained a whole new appreciation of running as a collective achievement rather than a personal one. Bringing home bronze was an added bonus, and it taught us that together we are stronger than we had ever expected.
Having the opportunity to be part of the University of Ghana’s Cross Country team did not only teach me more about running and improve academically, but it also enabled me to learn more about Ghana and gave me the chance to meet some of the most wonderful students, staff and coaches that I have ever encountered anywhere in the world. My team mates were so quick to accept me and claim me as one of their own, and to make sure I always felt included and valued despite the fact that I was an obvious outsider in many ways. My short time in Ghana has been immensely enriched by the opportunity to compete alongside such an incredible team and I wish them nothing but success at 2020 GUSA Games this January!