A man of few words, whether in the presence of the Queen or the police, a softly-spoken nature was perhaps a blessing in disguise for Great Britain bobsleigh pilot Lamin Deen when in his teenage years he found himself on the fringes of Manchester’s gangs.
While some of his friends ended up in jail for long periods of time, Deen flirted with being sent back to Sierra Leone by his late mother before choosing a career in the army, a decision that put him on the path to becoming an Olympian.
Expectations for the Team GB 2 four-man sled he pilots are modest at next month’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, unlike their in-form compatriots piloted by John Jackson, who selflessly allowed his crew to help Deen hit the Olympic qualification mark in Austria last weekend by sacrificing his own chances of a win.
But for a burly Grenadier Guard who has met the Queen a few times and was on duty at the Queen Mother’s funeral in 2002, it’s impossible not to think of what might have been. In the wrong sense.
“I got into trouble with the police for minor things, it was just a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said.
“My mother realised that. I’d put forward to go and join the military but she wasn’t best pleased with that. She was going to send me back to Africa for a couple of years to keep out of trouble.”
Not that the 32-year-old, who was moved to Manchester from London by his parents aged nine, knew of his mother’s plans at the time.
“My sister told me that about six months ago. My mum tried to disguise it as a holiday. But it just happened that I went into the careers office and got the ball rolling," he added.
The ball has rolled an awful long way since. Scouted by a previous bobsleigh performance director at an army-organised athletics event in Aldershot seven years ago, Deen won the 200 metres and impressed enough with his speed to merit an invitation to the team base in Bath.
He worked his way up from brakeman before watching the 2010 Vancouver Games on television, when he decided he’d like to become a pilot so he could have his 'destiny in my own hands.'
And Deen was indebted to the good will of the Great Britain's third choice team to support his ambition.
“They said ‘We’ll stick with you, we’ll push with you,” he explained, his life back then already about as hectic as it gets with frequent journeys around Europe in the pursuit of success.
Deen was also contemplating leaving the army with no solid plans for his future at the time he got into bobsleigh, so he is grateful for both the military in Britain and the network that helps aspiring athletes on their road to the big time.
“I don’t think there’s ever been a system like there is now to go out and get the athletes. It’s always been through the military," he added.
“It was a culture shock but I was always a physical type of guy. If you want something and work hard enough, it’s proof that you can.”
Deen said he was talked into joining the army in the first place by someone he knew and the discipline he learned there was definitely the making of him.
Negotiations will take place for his future in the army post Sochi but the greatest influence on his life remains his mother, who sadly never saw her son in a bobsleigh before she died.
“I know she was really proud of me,” he said.
- Tom Pilcher, Sportsbeat
© Sportsbeat 2014