By: Akinpelu Yusuf O.
Indeed, success is not always about winning; it is about doing something different. The quartet of Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere, Akhouma Omoegha and Simidele Adeagbo are the latest vindication to this assertion. In spite of not picking a medal at the just concluded 2018 Winter Olympics, held in Pyeongchang, these heroines have their heads held high, having done what no Nigerian has ever done. Against all odds, in the cold winter snow in far east South Korea, they showed the world that the silver lining of hope in the Nigerian sky is still very bright. Their feat is better captured by James Baldwin, when he rightly observed that those who say it cannot be done are usually interrupted by others doing it.
For the first time in the annals of the country, Nigeria participated in a Winter Olympic. Nigeria participated in Bobsleigh and Skeleton — two sports that are almost non-existent in the nation’s sport register.
According to Encyclopædia Britannica 2013, the former — Bobsleigh or Bobsled, which was first played in 1870 — is a winter sport in which teams make timed runs down narrow, twisting, banked purpose-built iced tracks in a gravity-powered sled (or sleigh). Same source explains Skeleton to be a winter sliding sport in which a person rides a small sled, known as a skeleton bobsled (or –sleigh), down a frozen track while lying face down and head-first.
Going down memory lane, Africa was first represented at the Winter Olympics at Sarajevo 1984 (Bosnia and Herzegovina) by Senegalese Alpine Skier (a sport involving skiing downhill), Lamine Gueye. Not until Sochi 2014 (Russia) did Togo and Zimbabwe gave the continent another appearance at the Winter Games.
Thanks to our women, Nigeria added brighter colours to the narrative of the Africa’s sporting history. This year, Africa appeared again at the Games, making it two times in a row, for the first time. While the trio of Moriam Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere and Akhouma Omoegha hoisted the Green-White-Green emblem in Bobsleigh, Simidele Adeagbo gave the country a face in Skeleton.
But for her, Nigeria might never have had any appearance in any Winter Olympic till date. She practically took Nigeria to Pyeongchang. The idea of setting up a Nigerian Bobsleigh team began with her. Born January 3, 1987, in Chicago, Illinois, Moriam Seun Adigun is a Nigerian-American track and field athlete whose specialization is 100m hurdles.
Sport is a strand in the familial DNA that makes up her chromosome. In short, Adigun is the niece of former American basketball star, Hakeem Olajuwon. So she had always loved sport from childhood so much that, in 2016, she founded the Nigerian Bobsleigh team.
After having represented the United States of America, she switched allegiance to represent Nigeria in 2016 due to her ‘family’s heritage’. As J.F. Kennedy once charged his countrymen decades ago, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country, she did not join the teeming complaining voices about the government’s inactions. She didn’t give in to the subtle murmur of possibly failing at what she had set out to achieve. Rather, she stood toe to toe with every challenge she sniffed could hamper her dream of building a bobsleigh team.
With this sterling élan of hers, within 11 months, she had assisted the team in raising USD$75,000. She was also responsible for putting together a makeshift sled made from wood and scraps, ‘The Mayflower’, as it was named, with which her newly found team trained. Her driving force was that of an undying thirst for success. She knew what she wanted, she went for it and she got it.
“It’s surreal,” Adigun had said in November while expressing her experience and her ambition. “One of the things that you aspire to is to have a podium spot with respect for the process and respect for the learning curve of what it is that we’re actually doing,” she had added.
Her sporting career didn’t hamper her from pursuing education. She currently pursue a dual degree: degrees of a Doctorate in Chiropractic from Texas Chiropractic College and a Master’s of Science in Exercise & Health Science in the University of Houston, USA. On this ground, Moriam is not only looking into her present, she is already planning for her future too. She plans to be a practitioner of her course of study in the sporting arena: as an injury rehabilitator.
“After bobsled, I will be a doctor or chiropractic, practising amongst the elite and professional athletes. I will continue in sports but will focus on injury prevention, rehabilitation, exercise physiology, and biomechanics.”
She is the youngest of the four; yet, she is the most decorated. Born 23 January 1992, Ngozi Onwumere was raised in Mesquite, Texas, where she graduated from Mesquite High School. She proceeded to the University of Houston where she clinched a Degree in Health Studies.
Ngozi stumbled upon bobsleigh in 2016. She got in contact with the sport when Seun Adigun’s idea of creating a Nigerian bobsleigh team in 2016 was fed to her. She accepted and joined the project, playing the role of a brakewoman.
“Honestly, I needed something new and refreshing. I had just made the decision to hang up my spikes and had come off of a trying season competing for Nigeria in track and field attempting the summer Olympics in 2016. So when Seun presented this option to me, I was stoked and pleasantly surprised. Still, this didn’t become reality for me until we actually had our first practice and touched Seun’s wooden self-made sled, ‘The Mayflower’,” she had recalled excitedly.
Prior to that, she competed at the international level in athletics as a sprinter for Nigeria. Alongside Blessing Okagbare, Lawretta Ozoh and Cecilia Francis, Ngozi won gold in the 4x100m relay at the 2015 All-Africa Games in Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo. In the same campaign, she aced a silver medal in the 200m category.
Her drive to scoop success is etched on the philosophy of ‘trying with positive thought’, and it paid. She proved that the only clog on anyone’s wheel of success is one. Hers is the vindication of the fact that age, gender or race is not a yardstick in the meter rule of success.
“With positive thoughts, you aim for positive results. This whole [2018 Olympic] campaign was built on positivity and this is what drives my confidence. You never know you can succeed unless you try. We are just three regular girls who have now made history. You can do whatever you truly believe you can. We see this time and time again. Failure is nothing when positivity is your backbone.”
Completing the trio in the bobsleigh team is Akuoma Omeoga. Born by parents who hail from Umuahia, Abia state, she was born in St. Paul Minnesota, USA. Oma, as she often calls herself, narrates her background to Daily Media:
“I’m the youngest “Oma” of four girls. I joke and say that because all of my sisters’ names end with “Oma” which translates to “good” in the Igbo language. Lucky for me I had five people to look up to.
“My parents encouraged extracurricular activities such as playing instruments, sports and art while maintaining an emphasis on education and Igbo culture. Track and field was kind of the family sport. After watching my sisters compete and taking a strong liking for the sport myself, I was recruited to the University of Minnesota’s track and field programme where I competed for four years.”
The 25 years old bobsledder is the second brake woman on the Nigerian team. She was recruited into the University of Minnesota’s track and field programme where she competed for four years. “Track and field was the family sport,” said Akuoma.
Prior to the Games, her determination to gun for glory was topnotch. “We will always bleed green,” she wrote on her Instagram page. Her philosophy is equally phenomenal. “Don’t let anyone set expectation for you. Write your own story. Rise above the noise,” another post reads.
Making up the quartet is Nigeria’s sole representative in Skeleton, Simidele Adeagbo. Not only is she a heroine, Simi is a breathing prototype of beauty and brain. The 5’6 athlete, 36, born in Nigeria lived in the United States of America and Canada, before moving to South Africa in 2013.
Studying Communications Journalism in the University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky, USA, she represented the University of Kentucky athletics team in triple jump in the United States of America. She is a 4-time NCAA All American and triple jump record holder for the University of Kentucky. She had nursed an ambition to compete at the Olympic by ultimately hanged her boots in 2008.
“Growing up I’ve always been an athlete and was always passionate about sports. I played a lot of different sports, but I settled in track and field. I almost made the US team at the 2008 Olympic Trials in the triple jump, but after I missed the cut I moved to South Africa.”
She hadn’t participated in Skeleton until in 2017. She took up the sport in Calgary, Alberta, Canada in 2017 after a nine-year break from sports. Her journey into the sport sprouted out of her keen eye for reading. And from then on, she was determined to make a name for her country.
“In 2016 I saw an article online about Skeleton and that Nigeria never had a representative in the sport at the Olympics, so I immediately wanted to be a part of it. After try-outs in Houston [Texas], I was invited back in September  where I got to know Skeleton.”
She didn’t stop there. She picked up the sport to make history and set a pace, laying a legacy that not even time will ever erase from the pages of history.
“They [her other compatriots] were already having the ambition to make this historic quest. I thought that it was such a great thing to do because it is important to leave a legacy and to make a way for future athletes. So immediately I wanted to be a part of it because I saw it as a way to make history and create a path for future athletes. That was the main reason I picked up the skeleton sport,” she had said.
By 2018 she became the first female athlete from any nation in Africa to reach the podium of an IBSF race, after finishing third at the 2018 North American Cup in Lake Placid, New York, United States of America, in January. Her numero uno status is incomplete without the mention of the fact that she is also Africa’s first female Skeleton athlete at any Winter Olympic in history. Clearly, Adeagbo is a national hero whose feat will continue to be ingrained in the Nigerian psyche – forever.
To close, it is as clear as an eagle’s sight that this crop of national heroines have emblazoned the name of Nigeria on the rock of time. Despite having a dual nationality, they chose Nigeria and they did what not only has a Nigerian never done but no African also: form a bobsleigh team. They have indeed shown that anyone can achieve whatever they set out to achieve by putting their minds to it and having the right attitude towards it.
March 8, this year, Nigeria joined the rest of the world in marking the International Women’s Day. Who else should be celebrated if not these fantastic four for the feat they fulfilled for us – that which they’ve sent forth to the world, forever?
Akinpelu Yusuf O. is a final-year Campus Journalist, and student of Statistics at the University of Ibadan.