Editorial: Why The Paralympic Team – the champions among winners – is the Y!/YNaija.com Person of the Year 2016

by our Editors

2016 has been a dismal year for sports and its administration. The beret-wearing sports minister is a disaster. The Leadership of the Football Federation brings new meaning to the term incompetence. The Dream Team VI was stranded in Atlanta on the way to compete at the Olympics in Rio. The Super Falcons won their tenth African Women Cup of Nations trophy yet managed to be humiliated in the worst possible way before their payments were made to them. And then there was the double whammy tragedies of losing coaches Steven Keshi and Shuaibu Amodu. Could it not get any worse?

It did. But then it got better too.

The silverlining in this case came from the most unexpected of sources, the Paralympic athletes that represented the country at the Summer Games in Rio. At the Olympic Games, Team Nigeria finished bottom of the medals table with a single Bronze medal in football. This, while not regarded as much of an achievement, is nevertheless, one medal better than the previous outing in London four years ago. It matters little though, Team Nigeria left Rio with a whimper.

The Paralympics commenced shortly after and event after event, the athletes who went into Rio quietly, roared like lions and stunned the country and the rest of the world with the quality of their representation, the depth of their talent and the audacity of their showmanship.

By the time they were done, and the games had concluded, Team Nigeria finished seventeenth on the medals table with an impressive haul of 8 gold, 2 silver and 2 bronze medals. This was better than the London outing where they finished twenty-second with a total of 13 medals: 6 Gold, 5 Silver and two Bronze. At the Paralympics, thanks to the doggedness of these heroes, Nigeria now boasts a total of 57 medals since the country’s first outing in Barcelona 1992. Nowhere else in Nigeria’s sporting history has recorded achievements of this scale and magnitude.

The story of the Nigerian athletes at the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is one of triumphing against the odds and succeeding in spite of Nigeria. After Team Nigeria’s disappointing finish at the Rio Summer Olympics, it took the formidable outing by the Paralympic team once again, to halt the country’s Olympic woes and place Nigeria firmly on the path to sporting glory.

It is hard to pinpoint exactly what makes the Paralympians excel so. They face the same challenges as their able-bodied counterparts in terms of funding, preparation, organization and hostility, perhaps even more so,- from a country which they have dedicated their bodies, skill and talent to serve.

The decision to restrict competition to three areas of specialization- Powerlifting, Table Tennis and Athletics- may have helped focus energies but ultimately this triumph can be traced to a disciplined commitment to practice and a fierce determination to succeed even presented with a dozen reasons to fail. They were handed lemons, they made sweet lemonade.

The victory of the 2016 Paralympics is Nigeria’s to claim, but it genuinely belongs to Lucy Ejike, the 38-year-old power lifter in her fifth outing who has shattered the Paralympic and world record three successive times, and to Lauritta Onye, the F-40 Shot Put Gold medallist who smashed her own world record of 7.72m set at the 2015 IPC world athletics championships in Doha.

Then there is Ezuruike Roland, the Powerlifter who set three Paralympic Records enroute his victory with a lift of 200kg in the Powerlifting Men’s -54 kg, and Kehinde Paul, who broke the men’s -65kg World Record twice to win Gold in the Powerlifting event.

The nation remembers Nwosu Ndidi, Omolayo Bose, Ugwunwa Flora, Orji Josephine, and other athletes who placed Nigeria on the world stage because they dared to reach into themselves and summon performances to be proud of, making their homeland a sporting force to reckon with in the process.

The Paralympic team is indeed proof that much is possible in spite of real and perceived lack and limitations only exist as far as you let them. For serving flag and country come rain, come shine, for gifting the country with their talent, even when they could have hightailed it to countries more appreciative of their sacrifice, for serving fatherland with love and strength and faith in better things to come, for making possibilities out of limitations, squeezing victory from mediocrity and doing it all with grace, and humility, the Paralympic Team is the Y!/YNaija Person of the Year.

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