No African country has represented the sport of bobsled at the Winter Olympics, but that’s about to change thanks to three women aiming to represent Nigeria. Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere and Akuoma Omeoga are shaping history to become Nigeria’s first women’s bobsled team.
Seun, Ngozi and Akuoma are established athletes and are engaged in many hustles. Ngozi has background work experience in the mortgage industry and is now a full-time student pursuing a Doctoral degree. Akuoma is the brakeman for the Nigerian Women’s Bobsled Team and also works as a healthcare recruiter. Seun is the driver of the team and also currently a chiropractic student. Seun is studying for a dual degree of a Doctorate of Chiropractic from Texas Chiropractic College and a Masters of Science in Exercise & Health Science University of Houston Clear Lake.
Teamwork and support have been integral in giving the women of Nigeria’s bobsled team confidence as they work towards success.
Why a bobsled team? How did you decide to come together to do this?
Seun: After realizing that my participation as a brakeman on the United States women’s bobsled team had grown to be far larger than me, I knew this was something I had to do. I noticed my ability to potentially empower and positively influence millions of people resided in my decision to give back to the country of Nigeria. I knew I possessed the resources and connections to get it done.
The sport of bobsled was looking to grow and the continent of Africa had never been represented in the sport of bobsled. Once I finalized my decision to take on this mission, I knew I would need teammates so I reached out to these lovely women, Ngozi and Akuoma.
Ngozi: Bobsled chose us! Well essentially Seun chose us to be apart of her amazing vision and from then on we made the decision to embark on an experience that would grow beyond us. Seun (who is also my former coach) and I have our annual lunches, at this one particular she brought up bobsled.
Honestly, I needed something new and refreshing. I had just made the decision to hang up my spikes and had come off of a trying season competing for Nigeria in track and field attempting the Summer Olympics 2016. So when Seun presented this option to me, I was stoked and pleasantly surprised. Still, this didn’t become reality for me until we actually had our first practice and touched Seun’s wooden self-made sled, “The Mayflower”.
Akuoma: Bobsled came out of the blue for me. I was familiar with the sport being that a coach of mine had been involved with the sort. My participation came out of Seun Adigun asking me to join this mission. I accepted and I was the third piece to the puzzle.
How has been your experiences as African women in sport? What unique challenges have you encountered?
Seun: So far the experience has been very rewarding as we have been receiving endless support and positive energy as we take on this task. The most challenging thing so far has just been navigating the unknown and doing it fearlessly.
When you are the first person to do something, there is no blueprint for the optimal plan of action —you just have to trust God and work through the process one step at a time.
Ngozi: As a Nigerian-American woman, I have been embraced by my teammates and by other aspiring athletes, Nigerians and just women in general. Challenges will always come when you are embarking on something completely new but we have adapted very well. With
With us all being women with very high demand schedules, there have been some challenges in accommodating everything but we do quite well. Also, the learning curve of learning a completely new sport has been challenging but we aim to conquer.
Akuoma: My experience has been the same as it has always been. Growing up I had always been active in sports and so have many other Nigerians that I grew up with. So being a Nigerian girl in a sport was pretty normal.
I think the biggest challenge with this sport in particular, is that there isn’t a lot of awareness. So taking myself along with everyone else I know on this huge learning curve has been a bit challenging.
So far you’re yet to practice on snow or with a bobsled, how confident are you in securing a place at the Olympics?
Seun: I have spent time on ice as both a brakeman and a driver —and that is the most important thing. As the driver, the success of the team resides in my ability to drive the sled from the top of the hill to the bottom. I have already successfully completed two driving schools this season on two separate tracks over the course of three weeks.
With that, I can now compete in a race on either of these tracks, putting us in position to start the qualification process. This is a great confidence boost for the team because we now have something to look forward to.
Our confidence is additionally fueled by our relationship with one another. We trust each other and that has taken us a long way in accountability and commitment. Our wooden sled has given us the opportunity to simulate sled conditions bringing our chemistry together and reproducing race scenarios.
Ngozi: I think there is much to be said about mental preparation as this plays a big part in physical preparation. Although we have not yet been on ice, we have the perfect mentor to take advice from (Seun) as she was in the same positon last year. Not to mention having two women in the same boat as you gives you a sense of security. With positive thoughts, you aim for positive results.
This whole campaign was built on positivity and this is what drives my confidence. I am here to be a student of the sport and good students apply themselves and have the ability to conquer anything.
Akuoma: Seun had mentioned to us several times that we will more than likely not get on ice until the practice runs before competition days. The wooden sled helps us prepare for the technical aspects of the sport, so that way when we get on ice we will feel confident.
As far as qualifying, we really just take things one day at a time. As long as we work smart, the sky is the limit. Also, my team drives my confidence. I think that we all feel that we are all capable. That is key to having a successful team.
Any words of advice for women who would like to try something new and challenging but are scared of failure?
Ngozi: You never know you can succeed unless you try. When you try, give effort as if you already have. We say this often because it’s true, we are just three regular girls who have now made history.
You can do whatever you truly believe you can. We see this time and time again. Failure is nothing when positivity is your backbone.
Akuoma: It’s all about challenging yourself and taking things as they come. Be open to giving yourself chances rather than attempting it once before deciding you can’t do something.
Seun: The fear of the unknown is something that lives within all of us, but impossible is nothing. Our greatest limitation is our inability to intrinsically overcome this fear, but there is no need to self-handicap.
We are truly amazing and strong, especially as women, and defying odds is what we are created to do. Take chances in life and maximize opportunities. Things can always appear impossible – until you successfully achieve it.
The team’s story gets compared to the Jamaican movie Cool Runnings a lot, how do that make you feel?
Ngozi: It is such an honor to be compared to athletes who paved ways. They made a legacy and we aim to do the same for Nigeria, anywhere you leave your imprint, there will always be longevity in relationships and intercrossing of paths
Akuoma: It feels great to know that people are making that comparison being that Jamaica really put bobsled on the map for a lot of people. It’s good to know that people are excited about it.
Seun: It is an honorary comparison. These are men whom people continue to sing their praises almost 30 years after they took a leap of faith and changed the sport of bobsled. To be compared to people of that caliber is a true blessing.
Do you plan to focus on bobsled for the rest of your careers?
Akuoma: Six months ago I had no idea that I would be doing bobsled. So it is hard for me to predict what will happen 6 months from now. However, it’s definitely something I am excited to keep growing in and conquering this journey.
Seun: After bobsled, I will be a doctor or chiropractic practicing amongst the elite and professional athletes. My career path will l continue in the sports but will focus on injury prevention, rehabilitation, exercise physiology, and biomechanics.
Written by: Rafeeat Aliyu
Photo by: The Times