Sandy Springs residents Manama, Makaya and Daba Fofana are real junior achievers. At just 10, 12 and 14 respectively, they’ve already compiled some pretty impressive stats. Manama is an elite gymnast who is currently being homeschooled so she can practice the 20-plus hours a week required to train to become an Olympic-caliber athlete. Her sister, Makaya, is a high level gymnast as well, who, at age 9, scored in the 99th percentile on her Secondary School Admission Test and became a member of the high- IQ society MENSA. Their brother, Daba, is a middle school running back who scored 22 touchdowns last season and holds titles in both wrestling and karate. “And all three are straight A students,” brags their mom, Crystal. “The kids have always seen my husband [Soli, a personal trainer who owns FOF Fitness] and me being active, so it just became a natural part of their lifestyle,” she notes. “I think a mistake most people make when they see exceptional athletes or students is thinking that it’s just natural. But most of the time, these athletes and students work twice as hard as everyone else. Good genes help, but it’s not the determining factor, in my opinion.” Given the success of this trio so far, there’s no telling where their natural ability and hard work will take them.
What’s your favorite thing to do with your siblings?
Manama: I love jumping on the trampoline with them and looking at old family photos. Makaya: I like playing cards with my siblings because we crack lots of jokes during the game. Daba: Going on vacation with them.
Are you competitive with your siblings?
Manama: Yes, we like to compete against each other in doing simple tasks or chores as well as sports and athletics. We even competed about who has the most bones in their body. I won with a stunning 207 bones [a doctor recently discovered she has an extra, or “accessory,” bone in her foot]. Makaya: We compare scores and times if we do a similar sport and turn simple tasks into competitions. Daba: We make everything a competition. We always compete for the TV and for the last bit of food.
If you have an argument or don’t see eye to eye on something, how do you work it out?
Manama: If we have an argument, we always come up with a compromise. It might take us a couple of minutes to calm down, but we always get along in the end. Makaya: If conflict occurs, we talk it out and try to find a compromise that suits everyone involved. Daba: One of my sisters will tell my mom or dad, and they’ll decide.
What is it you love about the sport(s) you play?
Manama: The thing I love most about gymnastics is that it pushes me further than I think I can go. My goal is to win a gold medal at the Olympics. Makaya: I love the challenge of learning new skills and being with my teammates to support and cheer for them. Daba: My favorite things about football are hitting and running with the ball. In wrestling, I love doing all the different moves and putting people on their backs. In karate, I like the intensity of fighting with someone else.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
Manama: A plastic surgeon. Makaya: Either a neurosurgeon or anesthesiologist. Daba: An NFL running back.
Other than your mother or father, who is your role model?
Manama: Simone Biles, the Olympic gymnast. Makaya: My role model would have to be [gymnast] Ariana Berlin, because she came back from a vital injury to compete at UCLA and had so much determination. Daba: Bo Jackson. He was a running back for the Oakland Raiders and an outfielder for the Kansas City Royals in the ’80s. He was the fastest man in both sports. He was also one of the strongest athletes. He wasn’t cocky like the players today.
STORY: Jill Becker
PHOTOS: Sara Hanna
Award-winning writer and editor who has penned stories for CNN, Woman's Day, Good Housekeeping, and dozens of other outlets.