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Top tennis player Courage Okungbowa lives up to his name, saves family after car crash

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

It is the kind of story that ends up as a made for TV movie, if not a full length feature film. The son of immigrants emerges as a prodigious talent in a sport his father introduced him to keep out of trouble. In fact, the teen is so good that the family decides to move to another state to improve his future prospects.

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Winegrass Ranch tennis star Courage Okungbowa — Facebook

Winegrass Ranch tennis star Courage Okungbowa — Facebook

Then, on the trip to the family's new home the car is involved in a terrifying accident, threatening the life of nearly every member of the clan only for the protagonist himself to save everyone inside. Yet something makes the story feel even more appropriate: The teen's name is Courage.

Among the nation's promising up-and-coming tennis prospects, Courage Okungbowa now stars for Wesley Chapel (Fla.) Wiregrass Ranch School, though that wasn't always the case. As this fantastic feature by ESPN's Lucas O'Neill recounts, the Okungbowa family, which emigrated to the U.S. from Nigeria, had been living in Washington, D.C. and Virginia until parents Stanley and Mabel decided their living situation wasn't safe.

Of Sierra Leonian descent, the Okungbowa family came to the U.S. to get away from the violence which has ravaged their native country, so new concerns over violence on American shores wasn't acceptable for the Okungbowas. At the same time, Courage Okungbowa was emerging as one of the top young tennis players in the region. When the opportunity arose to move the family to sunny Florida, home of year-round tennis and many of the world's best tennis academies, the Okungbowas jumped at the chance.

"Where we lived in D.C. and Virginia, it was crime-ridden, too much crime, so people kept their children home," Stanley Okungbowa told ESPN. "I couldn't live with that, so I introduced tennis. First, it was to get them out of trouble. Now they love it so we just stay with it.

"We came here purposefully to come and play tennis. Florida is the place, the mecca of tennis. That's what we call it."

In fact, they were so excited to get to the Sunshine state that the entire family -- save Mabel Okungbowa, who had already begun working in the family's new hometown -- left directly from one of Courage's tennis tournaments in Virginia's tidewater region. While traveling through the night, Stanley Okungbowa was driving on a North Carolina bridge when another car swerved in front of the family's car, forcing the minivan into a siderail and, eventually, into a terrifying tumble off the bridge and into a nearby river.

While Stanley Okungbowa was knocked unconscious by the impact from the car's crash, his children immediately woke up in the back of the minivan. Befitting his name, Courage sprung into action, pulling his siblings out of the back of the car as it began to sink into the river, with his father awaking just in time to escape from the car via a nearby palm tree and reach his children nearby.

The story could end happily there, but it doesn't. Instead, Courage has continued to run much of the family's day-to-day life, filling in for his father, who has required more than a year to recover from effects of the accident, which left him with physical and mental impairments, robbing him of much of his memory.

Despite the additional responsibilities, Okungbowa excelled on the court as a sophomore, slicing through the regular season as Winegrass Rach's top-seeded player without losing a match before eventually falling in the state playoffs. Now a junior, Okungbowa is getting a key reinforcement as Winegrass Ranch tries to build on Courage's success: His brother, Foresight Okungbowa.

There is much more to the story, as artfully laid out by O'Neill right here, one thing is certain: No matter where tennis eventually takes Courage Okungbowa, the teen already knows that his family's journey to help his sporting career has changed his outlook forever.

"It taught me a lot of things about life," Courage Okungbowa told ESPN. "That you can go at any time, whether you're a kid or whether you're an adult. I really think about that time and try to be more appreciative now and try not to take too many things for granted."

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