Did you ever think it possible? Did you ever even think it at all? That at some point, in Nigeria’s lifetime, we would appear at the winter olympics? But here we are, three months into 2018, with a Bobsled team and an appearance in the Winter Olympics. It’s been a whirlwind adventure for Nigerians, backing the amazing efforts of the team, so one can only imagine what the team, led by Seun Adigun who also founded Nigeria’s Bobsled Federation, are feeling, now that the olympic sized frenxy has died down and history has been made! I had the opportunity to sit down with the amazing trio, also including Akuoma Omeoga and Ngozi Onwumere, for a chat about Olympic dreams, carrying the expectations of an entire continent on your back and making history!.. SONIA IRABOR
I’m sure most of the interview you’ve had on this tour start at the same point but it’s so fascinating not to ask. Why Bobsled? How did you reach that decision?
Seun: I think it was just out of supporting friends and learning about the sport, it sparked the interest, and then once in the sport, that sparked the interest of me wanting to also recruit and add and lure these two into joining the sport as well. (Laughs).
And what were your initial thoughts
when she sat you down and said, ‘I’m
trying to start a bobsled team’?
Akuoma: Well, we met in July and then in September she gave me a call and said she’s trying to start like a big federation for Nigerian bobsled and I was like I don’t know where you are with your body (to Seun) girl I remember verbatim! (laughs) and I said, but if you’re interested in going on this journey with me then [I’m in!] But then, I thought about it afterwards, but was already committed to it [so I just had
to] to re-convince myself of the things that I had already obliged to.
And what was it like for you, Ngozi?
Ngozi: for me it was a bit questionable from the beginning. We usually have these annual dinners just to see where we’re at every year, just to touch base, and see what we’re doing. And it was on this particular dinner, we talked about bobsled and I was like hmm! I don’t really know anything about this but hey she’s passionate about it. So [I asked her to] give me a minute, let me go home and research it. So I went home
to research it and I didn’t find anything (laughs), so I think at that point I was like, well let me just do this… and look what it’s come to.
So what was that transition like; reintroducing your bodies to rigorous trainingand getting back into the swing of things?
Akuoma: Yeah, for me it was a little bit more difficult than I anticipated, just because I was about two and a half years removed from sports, because after I graduated from college I was kind of done with the whole fiasco of training. I was
still active, but the level I was maintaining was not the same level that you can utilise to become a professional athlete or a semi-professional, I guess, for bobsled. So I think it took a little bit more time for me to actually get adjusted to the sport. But at the same time [Ngozi and I] were starting from square one: learning how to do bobsled so it helped because it was not as if one person was far more advanced [than the other].
Ngozi: For me, I was just freshly finishing with Nigerian track and field, although I was a little bit out shape, Not to mention I was working corporate and everybody knows you get a little laxed in corporate, but for me it felt like a great opportunity to get back in shape and start doing things productively – bodywise.
And how scary was it leaving the security of corporate America and then going back into training for this thing that you didn’t even know a few months before?
Ngozi: I think for me – and all of us – we were willing to take the risk. We didn’t know how much it would entail, but I think for [me and Akuoma] corporate is always going to be there [but this] is a once in a lifetime experience. We didn’t know
exactly how it was going to turn out but it was for a good cause and I think that was enough for us to step out on faith.
Akuoma: For me it was actually a little
bit scarier, I think I worried a lot more in the beginning. But there was never a time I felt like I should quit bobsled. I think there was definitely a panic involved and that’s something a lot of people don’t understand, is that it’s hard to be in a sport like Bobsled and actually maintain a position at your job, we had to be gone for weeks at a time so it was a little bit complicated for me.
So Seun, how did you convince the powers-that-be about creating a federation for a winter sport in a tropical country like ours? Who did you talk to and how did you get
that off the ground?
Seun: So federation-wise, the first person I
actually spoke with was Chief Solomon Ogba who is now the current president of the Bobsled and Skeleton Federation, I had fostered a relationship with him running for Nigeria from 2009 to 2012, he was the sitting President of AFN [at the time]. Though I had tried out in the US bobsled team, I had never announced that I was retiring from track and field, but I basically mentioned to him that I was doing bobsled. It was just casual talk and then he was mentioning how Nigeria was looking for athletes in the 2014 games but they didn’t have anyone to participate. So the idea was kind of planted but set at the back of my mind. I was like, this is my first year in [bobsled], I really don’t know anything about the sport [so] although it sounds like a great opportunity for Nigeria, I don’t know where to start and it’s gonna be a lot to do. And during the course of the season and learning, it just kind of weighed heavy on my mind to do it so I came back to him and said, you know what? I think it’s time to go ahead and
start the federation and he was like, “just let me know what we need and we’ll get it done.” I then started to talk to all my coaches on the US side, to my friends and family making sure that this decision, and being invested in it, was actually going to be worth it. I [wanted to be sure that I] wasn’t just chasing my own tail, that it
was actually feasible. Although it was feasible, there was a lot to do, but after talking to [Chief Ogba], then talking to the coaches, then being introduced to the international bobsled and skeleton Federation and then putting down the plan, I [was able] to start putting every other piece together and the first piece was that I needed a team. Once they obliged, it became a matter of execution down the line.
How nervous were you, introducing yourselves as the Nigeria’s bobsled team? Was there any hesitation?
Akuoma: I wouldn’t say there was any
hesitation on my part, in terms of introducing what we were doing to the world. However I think there was still resistance when we did it, so we just had to manage how we responded to people when they did ask why it was important for us to have a bobsled team. I think it was more so dealing with that after the fact.
When you finally did make the
announcement you were met with a great amount of support. Did that add some pressure?
Ngozi: Yeah! I think for me the biggest
pressure came from actually being at the
Olympics games, but building up to that point, I always felt the support. The pressure used to come internally, to be able to represent Nigeria in a positive light, and always make good decisions on behalf of the country. With this being our first showing, we didn’t want to be seen as a joke, I think that’s where the pressure was. But overall, we felt a lot of love and we felt like people were encouraging us.
Seun: Yeah absolutely, I think being able to
watch the announcement via the GoFundme platform was beneficial because it gave us the opportunity to not only use that platform as a way of increasing the awareness, but also as a means of getting people involved in what we were doing. So, that put a little less weight on us because now we were sharing it with the world and allowing the world to invest in the ability of Nigeria to have a bobsled team, encouraging people to join the journey. But I probably looked
at that GoFundMe page for three days straight before pressing that button. I knew once it went live, there was no turning back forever.
And when you finally made it to the
Olympics, what were your thoughts when you were just about to get on the ice?
Akuoma: I think when people think of the
Olympic games, they think everything is just high pressure but even when you’re not at the Olympics, bobsled is a high pressure sport. The intensity before you get on ice is just high. Everyone is just extremely focused. However what we decided to do was the opposite. Not necessarily because we can’t stay focused, but we just tried to maintain our level of self- we just really wanted to be who we are. I could feel that there was nervousness in the room just before, but as soon as we got on ice we were ready to go. There was no question.
Ngozi: Yes! I think it helped us, being so
new; the whole season we were learning.
So it was not a different situation, it was
just that we had the bigger audience. I
think we’ve always been in survival mode.
So now, we finally got a chance to see our
competition and say we’re here, this is what we work for! I mean there is a reason to be nervous, but whether you’re nervous or not, you’ve got to go down.
Seun: I think we just really channelled
those nerves into adrenaline. The nerves
were good energy because it’s like you’re
nervous because you’re ready. You’re actually ready to get on. Lf you’re not nervous, it’s a problem: you’re at the olympic stage. If you’re not a little nervous, then you’re probably not at your best – execution wise. So being able to channel those nerves into straight adrenaline and fire each other up, making sure we put it in God’s hands and going out to do our best that just kind of alleviated those nervous feelings.
Time magazine did a profile on you and
this quote caught my eye: ”The team will
likely not bring a medal home but the
team’s mere presence counts as an epic
victory.” What was your attitude towards being at the Olympics, was it that you were going for gold or were you just happy to be there?
Akuoma: Well for me, I’ll just speak for
myself. Realistically, to get a medal in a sport like bobsled, a sport we have been
doing for a year, [is difficult], and I really
believe the impossible is nothing. But in order to be realistic and in order to have
respect for oneself and the sport, you cannot put yourself on a pedestal. When people have been working hard at this for four years straight [you can’t just say] ok, we’re a new team and we’re going to take the medal. It wasn’t necessarily just a “happy to be there” attitude but it was a lot more than just sports. The fact that we were there represented a whole lot more than a gold medal will ever equate to.
What do you feel is the next step for the
bobsled federation especially for the
young Nigerian girls?
Seun: I think the groundwork has been
set, the foundations have been set and the
premise that we built the federation on is
one that we’re pushing to be the driving force for the future. I mean, we’re so enthused about the idea that people – men and women alike – have already started to inquire about how they can build up to this and learn what bobsledding is. I think it’s something that’s just as rewarding as it was for us to put out the image that you can do whatever you want to do and not be limited by the fear of the unknown. These are things that people have taken to heart, and have been able to reap the benefits directly or indirectly. There have been so many young girls and young women out there that have been able to reach out to us about how much they have been influenced, in Nigeria and outside Nigeria, Nigerians and none Nigerians alike. Just the other day, someone messaged me and told me that hearing our story gave them
the courage to go out there and start their
own practice. Seeing other women be so motivated by the ability to have that foresight or that freedom to just live and be ok with who you are and accepting that being a woman is powerful, [is wonderful].
The theme of our March edition is
“Power to all Women”, and so we’re
asking some of the women featured to
send a message to their younger selves.
Akuoma: For me, I think the biggest thing
is to set yourself free, do whatever it is that
you want to do. The thing about me is that
I’m very passionate about putting emphasis on people who are disenfranchised and disadvantaged for whatever reason that may be. And especially being a woman and being black in America – or being a woman in Nigeria – it is extremely important that we set ourselves free and stay true to who we are
because the results are always amazing.
Ngozi: I think that’s right in line with what
I would say,. As a young child I was more
concerned about the future than the present. I think I would say to my younger self, just be you and let the course go where it may and always stay authentic to yourself. If you’re not, none of this means anything.
Seun: I think I would tell myself, “stay
true to your faith so that you can be free
to let go.” Because it wasn’t until I realised
I believe in God’s ability to do work in my
life, that I just let go. I wasn’t trying to take
control of everything in my life, I wasn’t trying to be like the one in charge of everything in my life; I just let go and God showed me his power and his ability to use me to walk in my purpose. So I would just reassure my younger self that it is OK to let go, live and ride on.
This interview was first published in Genevieve Magazine March/April Issue.
To get the e-magazine, click HERE