Once a young kid dodging potholes, Akil Campbell has grown into a champion flying around the track.
Campbell started out racing a BMX bike in Trinidad and Tobago when he was around 6 years old. He got his first road bike at age 11 or 12, which opened up a new world of cycling. He enjoyed being able to ride around and explore, even while dodging potholes that dotted the local roads.
“I just like riding my bike,” Campbell says. “You just feel a sense of freedom most times. On the open road, you can ride wherever you want.”
Years later, Campbell has ridden his way to becoming a national champion, Nations Cup winner, and world-class cyclist. Now he’s aiming for the velodrome in Paris for the 2024 Olympics.
Like many, Campbell’s cycling career was interrupted when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020. He couldn’t race or ride with others for several months, but Zwift helped him keep up his training. Criterium champion and track cyclist Rahsaan Bahati got him started with Zwift and encouraged him to keep riding.
Campbell is from Trinidad and Tobago – a nation of two islands in the Caribbean – but he spent nearly a year in Miami at the height of the pandemic. Meanwhile, his sister was living in Spain.
Zwift helped them connect across the distance, during a time when many people around the world were isolated from others.
“I found it pretty cool because I was able to ride with her,” he says. “I hadn’t ridden with her for maybe 2 or 3 years.”
“You don’t have to ride alone,” says Campbell. “You can ride with friends or anybody else in the world.”
When he got back to his home country, Campbell started using Zwift there, too.
“Ever since then, I have been trying to use it in my office,” he says. “The roads around here are not that good for riding.”
Athletic talent runs in Campbell’s family. His sister, Teniel, is a professional road cyclist riding for Team BikeExchange–Jayco. His mother, Euphemia Huggins, competed in multiple sports, including netball and track and field.
Campbell started riding BMX when he was 5 years old and began competing in races just a year or two later. As he got older, he moved on to road and track races.
“We didn’t come from a well-off home, but my mom did her best to make sure we were always good,” he says. “We always had to borrow equipment from those that wanted to help or who just saw potential.”
Campbell and his sister decided to honor the people who helped them by putting in their best efforts. And for both of them, all that hard work is paying off!
Now, Campbell competes on the world stage in track cycling, participating in scratch, elimination, and omnium events. He won the UCI Track Nations Cup elimination race two years in a row – 2021 and 2022. At the Pan American Track Cycling Championships, he took home a gold medal in 2021 and bronze in 2022 for his performance in the scratch race.
He’s currently Trinidad and Tobago’s national champion in the pursuit, points, and scratch events on the track.
In France in 2021, Campbell was the first endurance cyclist to represent Trinidad and Tobago at the Track Cycling World Championships.
“I have been representing my country from the age of 14, and the feeling has been great,” he says. “Just qualifying for the event is a task by itself, so being able to achieve that was good for me.”
He now has his sights set on the Olympic Games in Paris in 2024. His qualifiers start in March in Egypt, with a Nations Cup event. Then he will compete in Canada in April before moving on to the Continental Championships and World Championships.
Even though he’s focused on his next competition, Campbell still enjoys the freedom of exploring on his bike. These days, he gets to ride to landmarks like the Eiffel Tower between races as he travels the world.
It’s a dream come true for that young kid on a BMX bike.
“Just keep giving your all,” he says to those who are struggling to follow their own dreams. “For me, at some point, it started paying off. I just continued to keep applying pressure, and it worked.”