By Adeyemi Ayeku
“The outlier, in the end, is not an outlier at all”
The book, “Outlier” by Malcolm Gladwell is an unconventional book in that it brought a different approach to success; unlike the traditional talks by the so-called motivational speakers where they emphasise hard work and diligence at the expense of luck. The place of luck can never be overemphasised in the success story of every individual that has walked the surface of this earth. Like salt, in the soup of success, luck is an indispensable ingredient. Well, it may appear unimportant, but the impact cannot be denied. Even the good book recounts that “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle for the strong…but time and chance happeneth to them all” – that is luck.
The story of Blessing Okagbare, the Nigerian athlete, who rose to world rank, is outstanding as a validation for the assertion above. Born in Sapele, Delta State, in 1988, the track and field athlete has not only raced her way into glory, but also jumped both high and long enough to become a respected Nigerian athlete globally. Interestingly, in the early stage of her life, she had no plans to be what she is today; but found herself being encouraged to take up sports due to her athletic physique by teachers and family.
Blessing played football as a teenager and began to take keen interest in track and field around 2004. While still discovering herself, she took part in a number of disciplines by competing in long jump, triple jump and high jump events at the Nigerian school championship. She won many medals from these competitions; which eventually facilitated more opportunities for her.
The key to Okagbare’s international personality had many circumstances that could have prevented her from opening the doors to those opportunities. First was when she wanted to compete for a college in the United States, which has a low temperature, unlike the hot Sapele where she had grown up all her life. According to her coach, the fact that she had been in a relatively hot place favourably influenced her decision to participate in the competition. She dined with luck on a table of joy; being at the right place at the right time. Eventually, she became the superstar of that competition as she won four different awards in track and field. She returned to Nigeria to compete for the qualifiers of the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics. Jumping a whooping length of 22.5 feet, she clinched her qualifying ticket to Beijing for another round of the final competition.
On the day of the event at the Bird’s Nest Stadium, Germany, in 2008, the qualifying round of the main competition, out of 44 jumpers, only twelve would advance to the final stage. Okagbare finished 13th overall, having jumped 6.59 meters long. This was a bad outcome, one that left a bitter feeling. The feeling of ambivalence engulfed her because she was close to being among the qualifiers than being close to those who were behind. She seemed to have fallen from the ladder of opportunity, with just a step left to reach the top. In the end, it didn’t matter. The rule was clear. Just like champion’s league finals where only two teams would play the finals, the record had been sealed that only 12 people would qualified for the final stage.
The weight of failure was too hard for her to bear; hence she couldn’t wait to get out of Berlin. Everything else didn’t matter in the twinkle of an eye after she was announced not among the finals. All she wanted was to do was: board a plane and fly to Nigeria. Perhaps, that would lift her heavy burden. But luck wasn’t finished with her yet. That was why all attempts to leave Berlin for Nigeria proved abortive.
The penultimate day before the final competition, something strange happened. An unexpected call came by, about the result of the competition in which Okagbare was the twelfth. Like the story of Akeelah in “Akeelah and the Bee”, one of the twelve jumpers had been disqualified for breaching the rules of the game. The effect of the disqualification meant that the 13th person would replace the defaulter.
These all seemed normal. But no, this was luck on her part. What if Okagbare had boarded a plane and travelled back to Nigeria immediately she discovered she was not part of the selected twelve? Well, it could be argued that a call could have been put through the same way she got the one confirming her success. However, the probability of the call reaching her might be low, and perhaps, the 14th candidate, if she was still in Berlin at that time, might have been chosen instead.
Okagbare ended up making a name for herself, and rose to international fame; having won a bronze medal for herself, and getting the opportunity to compete at the 2009 World Championships in Athletics. She has thereafter, won countless awards and broken records.
Finally, no doubt, you matter, but equally know that luck matters. And when luck comes, always be prepared, otherwise, you will be ‘dead’. Okagbare recognises this fact. She recounts thus: “these chances don’t just come. It came for a reason. And if you don’t take advantage of it, there’s something wrong with you. Something is definitely wrong with you”.