[REAL VERSION] London 2012

REAL VERSION

Full coverage on NBC through August 12

Local Carries Liberian Flag in London

Monday, Jul 30, 2012  |  Updated 11:01 AM EDT
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Liberia's flagbearer Phobay Kutu-Akoi (L) leads her delegation during the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games.

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Phobay Kutu-Akoi was born in Liberia, but due to civil wars in that country her parents moved to the United States when she was young and settled in Silver Spring, Md.

Her journey from Liberia to America has taken many twists. After graduating from John F. Kennedy High School she enrolled at St. John's University and joined the track team. No one could have imagined what that decision would eventually lead to -- like being the flag-bearer for her home country in the 2012 London Olympics Opening Ceremony.

How did she get there? Oh, just by becoming the St. John's and Liberian record holder in the 100-meter dash by running an 11.52 in 2009. She used that record-setting time as a springboard to the Olympics.

She qualified for the 2012 Games with time of 11.37 in the 100-meter dash at the Bobcat Classic in San Marcos, Texas, in April.

Kutu-Akoi said the realization of competing in London finally sunk in when she attended a practice across from Olympic Stadium.

"I was doing my warm-up and I just stopped and was like, 'Wow. This is it. This is what I trained for the last three years,' " she said.

"I'm a testament that hard work does pay off," she continued. "Just believe and have faith in God that anything you want can happen."

Kutu-Akoi is looking forward to competing for her home country when the track competition gets under way Aug. 3.

"I wear that uniform so proudly," she said recently in an interview with St. John's. "Every time I put it on, it brings me back to where I came from. When we moved from Liberia, it was December of 1999, and there weren't any wars going on at the time but there were previous civil wars that I had experienced. It was traumatizing but when you are younger you don't really realize what's going on, you just go through it to survive. ... But I love my country. I had a really great childhood. I couldn't see myself representing any other country and I'm really excited. This has been a dream of mine all along."

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