Three-Letter Athlete Finds a New Sport—and Olympic Dreams
Nico Mukendi joined the U.S. men's handball team—but not after a lifetime of playing.
Local sports fans know Hillsborough High School senior Nico Mukendi—they've seen him on the football grid, baseball diamonds and basketball courts.
He's a triple-threat athlete—a 6-foot, 5-inch, 220-lbs, bundle of energy and skill—and he's now a member of a prestigious team representing the U.S., on handball courts.
"I didn't know anything about handball," he said, but added he enjoys it a lot, especially since the sport demands a lot of the same skills he uses in the other sports he plays.
Nico, the son of Tall Oaks Drive resident Didier and Wendy Mukendi, was invited to try out for the U.S. men's handball team after members of Athletic Standard, a company that offers athletic testing to students, noted his abilities were a good match for those who do well at the sport.
"We knew the team was looking for four or five new players, so we suggested Nico try out for it," Athletic Standard's founder Tom Newman said.
So he attended the tryouts at the USA Olympic Training Center, in Lake Placid, N.Y., last month and was invited to join the U.S. men's team.
"My reaction was, 'who gets to do this stuff?" Nico said.
He said his first thoughts of the sport—which he'd never heard of, let alone play, until just before the camp, was that it is "really fun."
"I get to use my running, like in football and basketball, and throwing, like in baseball," Nico said.
He'll be traveling to Mexico this summer to participate in international games, but in the meantime, he's continuing to develop his skills and strengths at the high school's "polebarn," the training facility at the school offering students professional training.
"I'm really proud to be representing our country," he added.
Athletic Standard was in Hillsborough last week, repeating tests given to high school students to help them develop their fitness and strengths. We'll have more on the testing, and how it's benefited local athletes tomorrow.