From Austria to the UK, from American Football to Netflix, life for Kelz means challenge and growth

My whole life has always revolved around the concept of growth. My mom was born into a wealthy Nigerian family, her father died when she was only 17, so things changed very quickly. She met my father, who was living in Austria, they got married and divorced when I was 4 years old. Suddenly my mom found herself alone, without knowing how to speak German, and we struggled a lot. Life continued to be difficult even after we moved to England: in the early days we lived in a one-bedroom apartment…. That is why I always wanted to achieve more and push myself as far as I could.”

Ancient epic poems tell of journeys and heroes. They define figures, fighters carved in stone, sketch their invulnerability and vulnerability, their muscular superficiality and inner depth. They are athletic feats and metaphors for life. They are obstacles and opportunities. They are centuries-old notions reflected in a digital, swirling present: the present of American football player and fitness benchmark Kelechi Dyke.

Austria meant challenges. Nigeria gave me body, genetics, culture and behavior. While Austria was chaos for me, Nigeria was structure. Growing up I was always alone; I was the only black child in my Viennese school. There are many positive sides to Austria, I think for example of the health care system or nature school trips, but in this nation, I also learned to understand some forms of racism…. No one spoke to me and I remember many small, strange negative incidents. That’s why I focused only on grades and academic successMy mom pushed me toward American football; before that I simply played European football. I love contact sports, I enjoy a challenge, and I liked the idea of making a sport that was virtually unknown in Europe more popular. I still remember when they handed me the book with all the rules, I studied it day and night…. I still remember when they handed me the book with all the rules, I studied it day and night…”

Kelechi does not mention any reference points or sporting idols. When he thinks about his own ascent in Old World American football, which began in Vienna, passed through London, and is now back in the city that was once the capital of the glorious Austro-Hungarian Empire, this monumental athlete over six feet tall does not talk about NFL stars, but about values. The same values he tries daily to share on his social channels, showing the effects of healthy living on body and mind. The same values that have accompanied him on a playful experience away from the football field, in Netflix’s ‘Too Hot to Handle’ format.

“When you come out of nowhere, the only thing you can have are your values: kindness and respect are key. After my experiences in Austria, I could never have become a bully. I never had sports icons because I always had to deal with real life problems. And I never had the luxury of focusing only on sports: while my mom was working, I had to keep an eye on my brothers, I couldn’t go to the park and have fun…. Without money it is not easy to play sports. For me it was and still is important to face and overcome daily obstacles, which is why I always appreciated Arnold Schwarzenegger not just as a sportsman, but as a man. Even during ‘Too Hot To Handle’ I tried to stay true to myself, to the idea that you don’t have to be a dickhead: that doesn’t mean being a leader and it doesn’t mean influencing in the right way. You have to understand people, be honest and create connections through your ideas. It is difficult, but I firmly believe in this purpose.”

After being viewed by millions and radically increasing the number of followers, the current Vienna Vikings player has not lost his distance from reality and the significant past. He has preferred meditation, reading and rigorous care of an almost endless muscular archipelago to easy success. That’s why his videos don’t sprout cigars, champagne and dolce vita, but resonate the echoes of pure passions like football and basketball, the desire to dominate every yard and the urge to consciously inspire. Like one of the heroes described in ancient epic poems, like a Super Saiyan from the much-loved Dragon Ball universe. Because right there, at the intersection of reality and imagination, past and present, Kelechi Dyke’s mindset and personality find fertile ground, projected into a future that wants to be both individual and collective.

I am coming back to Vienna after many years in London to close a circle and to succeed in a country that I still feel connected to me. Now I want to continue to improve in everything. Lately I have discovered meditation and it is helping me a lot. I have realized that it is essential to be in the present, and I try to share this concept with those who follow me. I want to become the best version of myself and allow others to join in this individual process, avoiding fiction and false positivity. The mind is playing a central role in my life. For example, I used to be just a sprinter, but now I love to train for long distances: I struggled tremendously, but I discovered incredible feelings when I ran 5 miles for the first time. Long distances allow me to think clearer, to better process things. I also want to establish myself in American football, but mostly I want to be a good person and take care of my family. I’ve always read anime because they theorize paths that somewhat resemble mine: they teach that even heroes can fail and that they have to work hard to achieve success. Goku is constantly improving because he has to fight for his life. That’s why I will never stop seeing myself in his character.”

Photo Credits: Kelz images

Photo: Dave Imms @daveimms
Athlete Representation: Forte

Text by: Gianmarco Pacione