To be a champion, an individual must possess ability, belief, dedication and perseverance. This is why champions are rare and celebrated with such gusto.
In 1968 Anne Burke approached Eunice Kennedy Shriver with an idea to organize an athletic competition for people with special needs. Eunice Shriver, the head of the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation, went a step further and provided a grant of $250,000 to form the Special Olympics. In 1988, forty years after Anne Burke took the first step, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) officially recognized the Special Olympics. Today, over 4 million people with disabilities compete in various events across the world, and the best of them compete against one another every four years at a chosen location. The spirit of the competition is best described by its motto: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in my attempt.”
In December 2005, Special Olympics Nigeria was formally launched at the University of Lagos. The aim of the Nigerian affiliate was to break the cultural inhibitions that prevent the intellectually disabled from taking their place in society, and to provide opportunities for these individuals to use sports as a means of self development. Today, over 10,000 Nigerians train and compete, and the best of them represent the country at the summer completion of the Special Olympics. In 2011, the Nigerian contingent returned from Athens with 27 medals; 9 gold, 9 silver and 9 bronze medals. This return beats all the medals Nigeria has won at the Summer Olympics since Nojeem Maiyegun won that bronze medal in 1964.
If you visit one of the popular country clubs in Lagos, you are likely to see my heroine training. Teju Ogunlela trains five times a week with one thing in mind: she wants to become an Olympic champion. Last year, barely weeks after the death of her mother, she demonstrated tremendous courage to win a silver medal at the Special Olympics. When she returned to the country, there was no one but their families to welcome them, no newspaper headlines announcing their achievements, just a reception by their sponsors and more training schedules.
Special Olympics Nigeria is run by individuals and depends on donations for funding, not government subventions. The success of the group is down to the dedication of the donors and the board led by Victor Osibodu. Other notable donors like Udeme Ufot, Foluso Phillips, Chris Okeke, Oye Hassan-Odukale and the late Tayo Aderinokun ensured that the funds needed to participate at the Olympics were not released 90 days to the event. The domestic competitions are held in 5 geo-political zones with remarkable organization led by the regional coordinators. The website of the association has phone numbers and e-mail addresses of all state coordinators, and the coaching network is growing every day. Apart from harnessing the talent of these athletes, there is a thriving family support network for the parents and families of these special individuals. Experts like Professor Adenike Grange, Dr. Seyi Roberts and Dr. Ademola Abass amongst others have educated families of people living with intellectual challenges on how to address these challenges. The result of these coordinated efforts cannot be more obvious; 27 medals in one competition is a tremendous performance.
To be a champion, an individual must possess ability, belief, dedication and perseverance. This is why champions are rare and celebrated with such gusto. You cannot wish your way to becoming an Olympic champion; there are no lottery tickets for winning medals. Barely days after winning two individual silver medals and one team gold medal, Yohan Blake said on twitter: “Even a beast gets tired! Two days to rest and then it is back to hard training.”
If the Minister of Sports needs inspiration on how to reverse the rot in Sports, he can start by speaking with Victor Osibodu and Folashade Bolumole. They might offer him some tips on how to plan for success; and who knows, the journey to redemption might have just begun.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.