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One Oakland athlete’s road from tragedy to inspiration

Ayodele Mims (left) and Zaire Robertson (right) are always there for each other. Photo courtesy of Ayodele Mims
Ayodele Mims (left) and Zaire Robertson (right) are always there for each other. Photo courtesy of Ayodele Mims

As the two were eating breakfast together last month, a thought popped into Oakland Military Institute athletic director and football coach Ayodele Mims’ head while sitting there with one of his football players, Zaire Robertson.

“I just remember thinking to myself like, ‘Man, I’m always going to always be in this dude’s corner. No matter what, I’m going to make sure I got this dude’s back,’” Mims said.

Mims has been there watching Robertson blossom into a star through every walk of life, and he will gush about Robertson every chance he gets.

Just two years ago in 2018, Robertson could have gone down a different path, and nobody would have blamed him. HIs mother tragically passed away, but instead of letting that loss deter him, he did just what his mother taught him: fight.

“It’s life. Things happen,” Robertson said. “I overcame it. I was going to regardless because that’s how she raised me to be.”

And Robertson, through those lessons he learned from his mother, is on a path to success wherever he ends up on the football field and off the field as well.

His work ethic is second to none. From the moment Robertson transitioned from eighth grade into high school and joined the football program, there was never a single day missed.

Or even a rep. 

“He does not miss school,” Mims said. “His attendance is excellent. He does not complain. He does whatever is asked of him.”

With that hard work and never missing anything, Robertson’s growth as an athlete has been an example to teammates and beyond.

Mims remembers when Robertson could barely get up 125 pounds on the bench press. Entering his junior season, that mark has doubled up into the 250-260 range.

Robertson is like the point guard, showing his teammates what it takes and letting his efforts spill over to others, showing what a strong work ethic can lead to and the dividends it can pay in the long run.

“He’s like a living testament because I can pull up pictures of what he looked like in the eighth grade,” Mims said. “It gives our skinny kids hope. It gives our kids who need to lose some weight help. He’s just an optimistic dude, and I love that about him. It reminds me a lot of myself.”

But his progress on the field and in the weight room only tells part of his remarkable journey.

Robertson’s grades were not up to par in eighth grade. Since then, his performance in the classroom has only skyrocketed despite the challenging circumstances that have been ahead of him.

“He’s now over a 3.0, so I don’t know too many kids that have that in them to lose their mom and get better in school and better on the football field, better in the weight room,” Mims said. “His potential is limitless. He just needs to keep living, keep having experiences to draw from, keep positive people in his cypher, in his network of influence. I just wish a lot more people knew exactly what was going on with him because I think some people would love to help him along in his journey.”

Mims has learned a lot from Robertson. While he sees himself in Robertson, he said he is stronger than him and has shown that no matter what is thrown one’s way, one can create a successful future for themselves.

At 25 years old, Mims lost his mother. Two years ago, Mims lost his father just a few months before his first child was born.

“So me being a hopeful optimist my whole life I never got too down in the dumps and now seeing my students at OMI just flourish and grow, seeing somebody like Zaire maintain the positive attitude, maintain that strong will, that drive, that perseverance to keep fighting, keep going,” Mims said.

Even with the losses people like Robertson and Mims have dealt with, what they are here to do is provide better opportunities and lives for those around them.

“I’ve lost so many friends to suicide, guns, all that,” Robertson said. “And you can’t hit them up talking about what’s going on in your life because you’re just going to shut down. You’ve got to really like just give them tons of role models, opportunities, make them feel like they really have a place to be or they’re really just going to shut down because not everybody is built the same.”

It’s a testament to the person Robertson is today: a special individual who never quit when life showed its hardest battles.

He always weathered the storm, and now he is a star athlete, a star student and a star role model at the Oakland Military Institute.

And maybe college football is in his future, too.

“I’ve seen him come so far,” Mims said. “The best part of it I know he has even so far to go. And he’s going to make even more of a believer out of himself, and I feel like once you’ve seen improvement in yourself and you recognize it at a young age, I feel like that’s the most intoxicating thing of all. Nothing trumps that because now as a child or as a young man you feel like your potential is limitless because you say, ‘Wow, I get this in this amount of time. What can I do in this amount of time? What can I do with this amount of effort?’ 

“I just feel like his character mixed with what he’s been through, his experiences mixed with his intelligence, situational awareness is going to pay off for him.”

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