Sports

The Nigeria Women's Bobsled Team Is Making History

Okayafrica speaks with the history making ladies who make up the first Olympic bobsled team for Nigeria (and Africa).

You may want to dust off your Cool Runnings VHS—Nigeria, we have a bobsled team.


Come 2018 in South Korea, a sport that’s never had the continent represented in the Winter Olympic Games may see some history-making changes. Let's also not forget about their most recent cosign who joined along with the overwhelming support on social media—John Boyega.

Spearheaded by former Team USA bobsled break(wo)man, who also ran for Nigeria’s track and field team in the 2012 Olympics, Seun Adigun, the three-person squad is taking on the challenge of qualifying to compete while establishing a bobsled federation not only for Nigeria, but for the entire African continent.

As the driver, Adigun recruited Akuoma Omeoga and Ngozi Onwumere as her break(wo)men for Team Nigeria. All three ladies have managed to balance their busy superwoman schedules (Adigun is pursuing a doctorate of chiropractic from Texas Chiropractic College while completeing a master’s in fitness and human performance at the University of Houston Clear Lake, Onwumere is also pursuing a doctorate of chiropractic at Texas Chiropractic College and Omeoga is a healthcare recruiter) to train by any means necessary—including practicing with a bobsled they built out of wood.

Based in Houston, Texas, their next steps include getting in at least one race this season and stacking up the needed funds, so they can be well equipped as they train and compete. They ultimately want to represent hard—for women and young girls, for Nigeria, for Africa. They just want to show that nothing is impossible (ultimate #squadgoals, no?).

Read more in our conversation with the Nigeria Women’s Bobsled Team below.

Antoinette Isama for Okayafrica: The big question here is—why bobsledding? Why is this sport the next big thing for Nigeria?

Seun Adigun: I actually started doing a little bit more research and learned that Nigeria did not have, in history, a sports team that represent bobsled. So, I was like, "Wow, that would be something that'd be very positive and very good for the country itself."

Then I realized that the entire continent had never been represented at the Olympic games. From my understanding, never in the history has there been a federation for bobsled for any country in Africa. The International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation (IBSF) were looking to expand on the continent because it’s one of the last that needed to be represented for them to get the opportunity to expand the sport.

It just started growing to where it's like, "Seun, you have to do this. You have to help create this team so that not only will it help the sport of bobsled and the IBSF, the country of Nigeria, the continent of Africa, women in sports, pretty much everything that you represent!" It took me a long time to determine whether or not I was going to actually take it on. When I finally decided, the two people that I knew would be perfect for it were these two right here!

They get it. They have the heart, they have the passion; they have the dedication. They're also very determined in the sense that they can listen and they can learn and they're intuitive, but they're also people that will do the research and they'll try and find out and figure out and understand what it is that happens. I just felt like we had such strong connections that they would trust me to take them into this lion's den in starting this entire federation.

What does practicing bobsled involve? What kind of training do you have to do to prepare before you even get into the bobsled?

Akuoma Omeoga: Since we can't get practice time on ice, what we do is we just focus on strengthening. So weightlifting and sprinting—since we all have that background— is something we already know how to do but it's just another repetition; just getting it in when you can. Strength is the most important thing for this sport, so that's what the focus has been thus far and also we have a push cart as well that Seun actually initially created which was a beast.

Ngozi Onwumere: She's made us little engineers! We literally took wood in her garage and just started building things.

Adigun: Last year, because I had to come back more frequently than most people that were in the sport because I was in school, I decided once I knew I made the team, to garner up some wood and build a bobsled that I can use as something to push and keep me into it while I'm away so I don't feel like I'm so disconnected. That bobsled went through some upgrades and it's called the Maeflower. It's basically one of those things I brought out and said, "All right ladies, so I'm going to teach you Bobsled 101 with this bobsled that I made out of wood."

We've been using that to help understand the concepts and the mechanics that come with being a bobsled athlete. Two weeks ago, we built individual push carts that they could actually take, because this bobsled was actually a little bit larger, and practice even more reps on their own.

Once you all get ice time, are there also opportunities to do trial runs against other people? Do you have goals to beat times?

Adigun: With bobsled, it's not necessarily about the times, the times are just to determine who wins the race. But it's more about the number of races you actually get. When we get ice time, which hopefully we're planning on trying to get some at the beginning of the year, by God's grace we'll be cleared to actually start racing soon. When that happens, that's when we start counting.

The more races we can get, the better. Obviously, that's the goal for trying to make the Olympic games. You have to have a certain amount of races along with certain rankings. They have other qualifying standards that you can make, but most of it is geared around the races.

Behind the scenes with the Nigeria Women's Bobsled team with photographer, Obi Grant. Photo courtesy of Seun Adigun.

What are some other challenges you all have faced trying to make this a reality?

Adigun: The biggest challenge we have is starting a new federation for an entire continent. It's just that it's all new for everyone and the great thing about it is we have our country behind us. The Nigerian Olympic Committee is literally rallying behind us—the government; the people of Nigeria. People don't know what it is but they're still excited. The challenge is for us having to pioneer something.

Onwumere: I would say the biggest challenge for me is just the actual learning curve. We're going into a completely new sport that we know nothing about. I knew nothing about bobsled. That was my first question I asked Seun. Actually competing or starting to practice and just doing things that seem completely awkward has been the biggest challenge for me.

Omeoga: I agree with that 100 percent. Definitely the learning curve and the unknown; especially in terms of race day—what does that include? With training, it's easier because we're all here and Seun's actually been a huge help because she's done it before and all types of stuff so she's actually getting us very, very well prepared for that as we're moving forward.

How are you guys able to balance training with all the everyday things you have to do?

Adigun: Something has to take an L every now and again. There's just too much to do and not enough of us. Having faith gives balance—just riding on faith because there's so many unknowns that we deal with on day to day basis that if we try and control everything, there just won't be enough; 24 hours just is not enough time in the day to do it all.

The key for me is making sure that I have the foresight to be able to help things get set up because the sport in itself is designed around the driver. You qualify as the driver qualifies, so there's obviously things that can't just wait for them to happen, I have to try and set them up. They've done a really good job of just trusting that I can do that and being there whenever I need them to do something or when I say them a bazillion emails or messages within an hour, they'll respond, even if they got to catch up and scroll up for ten minutes to read it, they respond. Working together has really helped a lot with the time management and being able to tackle some of these things as well.

Omeoga: I think our communication has really been on point, because we are three different women who have three different entire schedules—we meet twice a week. That's if we're lucky, too. Just to make sure that we're making time to actually meet up with each other and even to communicate, whether it's talking about physical stuff, whether it's practicing, we're always talking about making sure that we're all on the same page mentally so that's helped a lot.

Onwumere: It helps to know that you're not alone. In any situation that you're in, as long as I have two other ladies that know exactly what hectic schedules are and how we're dealing with that, that always helps.

Photo courtesy of Seun Adigun.

More and more we’re seeing Nigerians, and Africans in general, step into professional spaces that aren't your typical, lucrative careers. How did your families react when you told them you were all pursuing bobsledding?

Omeoga: Oh, that is something funny because my whole thing was after college, this was internally for me, I was like, "I'm going to pick up another sport." I had no idea it would be this because I was going to do something that people just do. When I say people I mean Nigerian people—like soccer! When this came about, I told my mom and she said, "Oh, well that's, you know, almost another thing that's for fun.” It wasn't anything that was really supposed to blow up—she was just thought it was cute, basically. People like my siblings and my cousins, they're gassed, they're so pumped up. It's ridiculous.

Adigun: Mine is a little bit different in that this is technically my second season in it, so my parents got their kind of “huh's” and “what's” out last season when I'm said, "Yeah, I think I'm going to do this," and they're like, "What is it?" After they saw me kind of get through a season and it helped that I did a World Cup last year that was televised. When they saw that they said, "Okay! We can kind of do this!" And my dad is like, “I am freaked out about the fact that you are sliding on ice 80 miles an hour," and I was like, "I know, I know, I know."

My mom's been on the journey with me mentally, emotionally, physically from the beginning when I joined the U.S. team and when I thought about the idea of even starting the Nigerian team. Me and her have gone on our emotional roller coaster together. My dad's now like, "All right, I need a Bobsled 101 because people start asking me questions, I need to have some answers and I don't know anything."

I think the consensus generally is, we're really responsible women and we don't just put ourselves in situations that are not fruitful or that aren't for something much larger than us, especially when it's very unconventional in the sense that we are doing bobsled. At the end of the day, our parents know the type of women they've raised and our families know the type of women that we are, and they're like, "I may not necessarily agree with it right now, but obviously you're onto something so all right. We'll see what happens."

This interview has been edited and condensed.

UPDATE 12/16/2016: The introduction has been edited to clarify Seun Adigun and Ngozi Onwumere's degree pursuits.

Featured

This Afro-Feminist Marching Band Is Challenging Negative Stereotypes of Black Women In Paris

30 Nuances de Noires is fighting the erasure of black women in public spaces one march at a time.

If you stroll through the streets of Paris and its suburbs and stumble across a parade of black women wearing shiny outfits, singing and dancing, consider yourself lucky: you've just come across the Afro-feminist marching band '30 Nuances de Noires' (30 Shades of Black).

The band was created by dancer and choreographer Sandra Rose Fanchine. Tired of the erasure of black women in the public space and of the negative stereotypes associated with them, Fanchine has brought women (and a few men) together in this project. Professional and amateur singers, dancers and musicians, they have all accepted to embark on this journey and use their talents to launch this much-needed conversation in France.

Sandra Rose FanchinePhoto by SEKA photography

The band's musical coordinator, Célia Wa, is a flautist, singer and composer. When Fanchine invited her to take part in the project, she was very enthusiastic to have the opportunity to play alongside other black female musicians and take part in something that portrays black women in a positive light and in a flamboyant way. She was also keen to play alongside other black female musicians and coordinate them, outside, in the public space, where music is accessible to everyone. But it wasn't easy going. "It's hard to find women who play wind instruments" she explains. "But especially black women. So, we decided to incorporate a few black men musicians—men who understand the meaning of the project and support us. They don't try to dominate the space, they wear dresses and headwraps, they really blend into the group."

Célia WaPhoto by SEKA photography

Wa hopes the project will encourage many young girls to become professional musicians by showing them that being a fulfilled woman, having a music career and a family life, is possible.

Awori is the singer of the band Kamiawori, and a singer and dancer in the parade. She accepted Fanchine's invitation to join the band because she realized a brass band made of women—especially black women—was something unique that she wanted to be part of. "Throughout history, women had been forbidden to play wind instruments because blowing into those instruments was assimilated to a sexual act", says Kamiawori. "As a result, nowadays, the majority of people playing these instruments are men, so the fact that Sandra was looking for black women only was really appealing to me".

Earlier this year the band had the chance to travel to French Guiana to do a performance with black Guyanese women. This is the kind of future she wants for the project. "I want us to go to places in France where there aren't many black people, as well as to the former French colonies and the French overseas territories," she says. She hopes the project will start conversations everywhere, and empower black women to talk about their issues in their own words and organize their own emancipation.

AworiPhoto by SEKA photography

***

Read on for our conversation with Sandra Rose Fanchine. This interview has been edited for length and clarity

Can you tell us about yourself and your background?

I'm 51 years old, I was born in Martinique and grew up in Côte d'Ivoire. I'm a hip-hop dancer and choreographer. I first came to France 22 years ago to study graphic design but along the way, I found hip hop and started dancing out of passion. With my background in graphic design, I knew I was going to be a choreographer eventually, I was convinced I could use hip hop beyond its performance aspect, bringing my visual artist's knowledge to it and using it to promote a narrative. So, when the age of maturity came, I became a choreographer. My first work considered the social construction of femininity, and I then created a piece which dealt with the memory of the black body. 30 Nuances de Noires is my third choreographic work.

Where did the idea of "30 Nuances de Noires" come from?

It came from my professional frustration as a black woman. When I was looking for a job after my studies, my graphic design work was very culturally influenced by my life in Martinique and Côte d'Ivoire. I was proud to show the aesthetics and the colors, to me it was beautiful but it wasn't seen as such, it was seen as something unworthy and my work was always devalued.

I also had to face that devaluation in my personal life. I wanted to partner up with a black man, but I could see that black men didn't value me, didn't give me space and in general chose to have solid relationships with white women. I am light-skinned so I used to pass black men's colorist filters, but this privilege stopped as soon as commitment was mentioned. I looked around me and saw a pattern in the way black men treated black women, in the way people in general treated black women, how we were looked down upon. I wanted to create something about that topic.

Photo by SEKA Photography

Why did you choose that name?

I chose that name to criticize the movie 50 shades of Grey, which from a feminist point of view is a sexist and misogynist movie, that glamorizes violence against women. Moreover, black women, in the global conception related to sexuality and sentiments, are continually eroticized in a very specific way: animalization, exotification and fetishization. I chose to reclaim these stigmas, just as Audre Lorde writes about in the chapter of her book Sister Outsider named "the use of eroticism, and the use of anger: the response of women to racism."

How did the people around you react to this project?

At first, I wanted to do a piece about sexuality, love and the neocolonial aspects of interracial unions but I faced a backlash from people in the cultural institutions and people in the hip hop industry. Whenever I talked about my project I was completely shut down and called a racist.

After all that rejection and denigration, I went back to university and studied gender studies for two years, and around the same time I became an Afro-feminist activist. In the meantime, the project evolved. I used to work at festivals where there were many brass brands and I already wanted to create a marching band with hip hop dancers so I just mixed the two ideas: highlighting black women's issues and creating a marching band.

After equipping myself with the relevant intellectual tools, surrounding myself with other black women and realizing we were all going through the same things, I was capable of demonstrating the systemic nature of what I was talking about and the barriers fell. I was finally in the right place at the right time. I found the artists very easily, the first musicians I met brought other musicians, the first dancers brought other dancers, it all happened very organically.

Photo by SEKA Photography

What type of women were you looking for?

I was looking for women who were strong enough to embody and address those issues unapologetically. They had to be capable of dancing on the streets with an attitude that says "I am standing up straight, I am black, I am glowing, I am shining and you will look at me and ask yourself how you really see me because I am not all those stereotypes you believe I am." Naturally, it first attracted feminists, women who were already aware of those issues. The women who later joined us and weren't aware of those issues are now more conscious and politicized.

What are the musical and aesthetic inspirations behind the project?

I really wanted visuals inspired by the aesthetics of the 70s and 80s because the dances present in the parade—locking and waacking—emerged at that time. For the musical aspect, I looked for songs that talked about black women and their issues: sorority, colorism, equality and resilience.

Photo by SEKA Photography

How do you see the project evolving in the future?

I want to do a world tour, I want us to dance with Beyoncé and Solange, I want to take this message of empowerment everywhere there are black women who need to exist, shine, go outside and assert their presence in the public space. Because of harassment, sexism and prejudice, it's still pretty complicated for women to simply exist. I consider myself lucky because I can see that the band does what I wanted it to do: it really empowers black women and seeing that happening gives me a lot of strength to take it further.

popular
Seyi Shay. Image provided by the artist.

Seyi Shay's 'Electric Package' EP Is All About Love & Positive Vibes

We talk to Seyi Shay about her new EP, an intimate mix of different afrobeats blends topped off by Gqom.

Talented Nigerian singer and songwriter Seyi Shay recently dropped her brand new music project, the Electric Package EP Vol. 1.

It's her first project in three years, since the release of her debut album, Seyi or Shay, in 2015. The EP, an intimate mix of different blends of afrobeats, contains six tracks, topped off at the end by the Gqom brand of South African house music.

The project features artists from different corners of Africa, including rising singer King Promise from Ghana, Afropop songstress Vanessa Mdee from Tanzania, and rapper and producer Anatii from South Africa, giving it a pan-African outlook.

However, she didn't forget her fellow Nigerian acts, as seasoned highlife singer Flavour, young Afropop superstar Kiss Daniel, and fresh act Slimcase are also on the bill.

Several DJs were also involved in the project, hosting different songs in mixtape fashion; DJ Spinall, DJ Consequence, DJ Neptune, and DJ Cuppy from Nigeria, Vision DJ from Ghana, and DJ Tira from South Africa. The songs were produced by Killertunes, DJ Coublon, Krizz Beat, Lush Beat, Anatii, and Chopstix.

We caught up with the singer to discuss Electric Package. Read our conversation below.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Photo courtesy of Nike.

OkayAfrica & Nike Present: Naija Worldwide

We're linking up with Nike to celebrate Nike's fire Nigeria kits and to send Team Nigeria off to the 2018 World Cup with style.

Partner content from Nike

We've teamed up with Nike to bring the Naija spirit to the world with "Naija Worldwide," an epic bash to celebrate Nike's triumphant Nigeria kits as we send Team Nigeria off to the 2018 World Cup with style!

Join us on Saturday, June 2, from 3:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at The Well in Brooklyn as we mark the occasion with music by DJ Tunez, DJ Moma and DJ Moniki. The vibe also includes art by Laolu Senbanjo, Nigerian cuisine, and a surprise performance by one of Afrobeats' finest.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.

popular.