San Jose

Trainer Stays Out of Spotlight as He Works With World-Class Athletes

Abdul Sillah trains some of the best and most famous athletes in the world, but most sports fans have never heard of him.

And he wouldn't want it any other way.

Women's tennis champion Naomi Osaka, who just won the Australian Open last weekend, is one of those world-class athletes Sillah has worked with.

"Moments like this are what you train for as a little kid to play the grand slams, and to win another one is definitely a dream come true," Osaka said.

Sillah was in Melbourne to guide Osaka through the tournament.

"I focus on Naomi, and then when I’m home, of course, I come home to the ones that started me all off," he said.

Indeed, on Wednesday, Sillah was back Stanford to work with recent National Women's Soccer League draft pick Tegan McGrady as she prepares to embark on her pro career. The two go back more than a decade.

"I think that’s just what every young teenager is looking for, someone that believes in them," McGrady said. "And i know that from the very beginning, he told me that I was going to go off and do the things that I dreamed of, and to be able to do it now and still have him here training with me is just amazing to me."

Sillah was born in Sierra Leone, and his parents moved to San Jose when he was 9 years old. After an injury-riddled track and field and football career ended at Menlo College, he started training others.

"It is the selfishness in me, knowing that I was unable to actually get to the finish line," Sillah said. "But helping others achieve their goal and get to the finish line means I’ve made it to my finish line."

For Serena Williams, the finish line would be major titles, and Sillah has witnessed more of those firsthand than he can count.

"So they’re the ones that actually do the work, so that’s why I usually never count," Sillah said. "That’s why it’s been this long for people to actually realize that I’ve done anything. Because I choose to actually stay in the shadows."

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