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Forged by Opportunity

Navy Officer Turns to Bodybuilding

Lagos, Nigeria, 1994: A father entrusts his beloved 15-year-old son to a close friend, knowing it will probably be years before they meet again, if ever. He will miss Sheu (pronounced SHEE-YOO), his son, but knows the opportunities that await in America are limitless. He takes Sheu by the shoulders, looks into his eyes and offers one final piece of advice: "I want you to go out there, know where you came from and make us proud."

Since that moment, Sheu Yusuf, now a U.S. Navy lieutenant, has strived to live up to his father's words.

First he joined the Navy, then he made chief, next he became a commissioned officer. Now he's both a professional bodybuilder and the damage control assistant aboard USS Carter Hall (LSD 50), in charge of training Sailors how to fight the ship in case of an emergency.

"He gave me the opportunity he was supposed to have," said Yusuf. "That's why, since I've lived in this country, I have always wanted to do everything to the best of my ability to make my father proud."

His father's best friend had returned from America after leaving his son in the care of Yusuf's father, he explained. Grateful to the elder Yusuf, his father's friend asked him to come to America, but Yusuf's father asked if his friend could take his son instead. After two years of paperwork, his father's best friend adopted Yusuf, and they left for the United States together.

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It wasn't easy however.

"When I first came to this country, I was very shy because of my Nigerian accent. I remember walking to school instead of taking the bus because my schoolmates would always make fun of [my] clothes," said Yusuf. "What I missed the most was the family bond between my parents, brothers and sister, because I left when I was 15 years old and did not visit until 10 years after."

After high school, Yusuf was working two jobs, often sleeping on train rides between them in order to save enough money for college. Then, one day, he saw a commercial for the Navy. He knew he needed a change; he wanted something that offered stability and opportunity.

"The moment I walked up to my first ship, USS Comstock (LSD 45), I knew I wanted to be in this Navy for the long run," said Yusuf. "When I walked up to it, I saw three square meals guaranteed, education guaranteed and health care guaranteed. What else could you ask for?"
Joining the Navy not only provided him with a career and opportunities to succeed, but it also offered him the chance to live up to his father's expectations. In fact, the Navy has helped him better his family as well.

"For the past 10 years, I've been able to send roughly $3,000 every four months, so my parents back home can maintain themselves and my brothers could attend school, and it's the Navy that made it possible," said Yusuf. "Without this country, my brother wouldn't be moving to Canada to go study, my sister wouldn't be a CPA accountant in Nigeria right now and I have a house for my family, and you know how that is possible? The Navy."

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He wanted to be the best Sailor he could be in return, and to him, that meant being both mentally and physically strong. He developed a passion for working out to the point that one of his mentors asked if he had ever considered competing in bodybuilding. Yusuf realized he could once again live by the words of his father and use the discipline he had learned in the Navy to become a professional bodybuilder.

"The Navy teaches discipline, like being on time and following procedure when conducting maintenance on engineering equipment, and it's the same as when I'm lifting," said Yusuf. "During my first competition, I told myself, I want to represent my command and the Navy to prove to people that you can still be on a Navy ship and still be able to achieve your dreams, once you never stop believing in yourself."

Looking back at his life, he never focuses on what he's had to overcome, but instead is thankful for all the opportunities.

"Do you know what's special about America? We all have opportunity, and it's up to us to grab that opportunity," said Yusuf. "I came here as a kid from Africa with nothing, absolutely nothing, and look at me now. This country has given me everything I have; what else can I do but serve it to the best of my ability?"