Biola Kazeem profiles Nigeria’s Bobsled team: The fearless ladies making history (Y!/ Person of The Year nominee)

When the Winter Olympics kicks off next year in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Nigeria’s flag, for the first time ever, will soar high alongside that of other nations, thanks to the extraordinary effort of three citizens; Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere and Akuoma Omeoga who earned qualification to the bobsled event.

The good feeling about this historic feat is not just derived from what was done, but how it was done, as their story is one filled with attributes that are distinctly Naija; relentless persistence against all odds, refusal to bow to obstacles and ability to create something out of nothing.

Bobsled is neither a popular sport in Nigeria nor the African continent because of the apparent unfavourable weather conditions. It wasn’t the first sport of the three young women either, as up until months ago, they were fully and actively participating in track and field events and competitions.

But as they say, if you want to achieve anything, you either find a way or find an excuse.

Ngozi Onwumere, Akume Omeoga and Seun Adigun found a way to change course to a new sport when an excuse would have been perfectly understandable.

Ngozi Onwumere, 25, an experienced worker in the mortgage industry and doctoral student, hit the biggest shot in 2015 when she won gold alongside the famous Blessing Okagbare, Lawretta Ozoh and Cecilia Francis in the 4 x 100 metres relay at the 2015 All-Africa Games in Brazzaville, Congo. In the same year, she also represented Nigeria at the 2015 IAAF World Relays in Nassau, Bahamas. Akume Omeoga, 25, whose sister Chioma ran track for Minnesota between 2006–2010, gained widespread acknowledgement in 2014 following impressive races such as the 11.94 seconds she posted at the USF Collegiate 100M race and her victory at the UW-River Falls Invite 55M race. Seun Adigun, 30, a dual degree student of a Doctorate of Chiropractic from Texas Chiropractic College and a Masters of Science in Exercise & Health Science, University of Houston Clear Lake, has also represented Nigeria at several track and field events with the highlight being the 2010 African Championship in Nairobi, Kenya where she won the first position in the 100M hurdles race and the 2011 All Africa Games in Maputo, Mozambique where she also came first in another 100M hurdles race. In 2012, she was at the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul, Turkey where she claimed the eighth position in the 60M hurdles race.

Despite their unfamiliarity with the sport, none of them cowered and turned down the chance of taking an unknown path in an uncharted territory when Seun Adigun, following her stint as a brakewoman in the US bobsled program, broached the idea of a possible success in bobsled in 2014.

To fulfil their dreams, they didn’t wait for the stars to completely align for them. Without any sort of financial backing or promise, Seun Adigun, after trials and errors, gathered together wood and scraps and built a wooden sled so the team could practice with it. And practise they did, even without the snow.

When qualification started to look likely and no sponsorship was forthcoming, they turned to social media to solicit for support through a GoFundMe account which ultimately helped them raise enough money, bringing their story to the limelight.

Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere and Akuoma Omeoga reignited the ‘can-do’ spirit of Nigerians against great odds, and now serve as model especially to young Nigerians with big dreams in daunting circumstances. Back home in Nigeria, through social media, their story has inspired hope and restored faith in the hearts of other young athletes, across various sports, who are contemplating throwing in the towel over neglect, poor administration and inadequate facility. The Nigerian bobsled team have created a perfect excuse for them to keep going even when there seems to be no way in sight.

Early December they were guests on popular American television show, Ellen.

The three young women still have work to do. Their climb to the medal table in Pyeongchang will be steep and their lack of experience, in the grand scheme, may eventually kick in. But to millions of young men and women across Africa and the globe, they have done what very few athletes do; give clear and memorable expression to the true essence of the Olympics; winning whether you win at the games or not. Even if they do not win at the Winter games, Ngozi, Akume and Seun are winners already. For putting Nigeria’s flag at the Winter Olympics, the bobsled team deserve to be the YNaija Person of the Year 2017.

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