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.


You Need to Listen to Luvvie Ajayi's New Podcast 'Rants and Randomness'

Listen to the first episode "Real G's Move in Silence Like Wakanda" now.

Honestly, who better to host a podcast, than our favorite Nigerian social critic Luvvie Ajayi?

The blogger and media personality's new podcast Rants and Randomness, is already garnering pretty stellar reactions from listeners—It currently boasts a 5 star customer rating on iTunes. All of this is unsurprising given her knack for humor and sharp wit that we've enjoyed over the years through her popular blog Awesomely Luvvie.

In her very first episode, titled Real G's Move in Silence Like Wakanda, Luvvie rants about Valentine's Day extraness—which is a very real thing, interviews Eunique Jones Gibson, the photographer behind campaigns like "Because of them We can" and "I AM Trayvon Martin," and shares her thoughts on Black Panther—and yes, she was just as blown away as the rest of us.

She gives a full 15 minute review on the podcast, but you can read part of her review via this snippet from her blog:

My heart is full by the fact that this film feels like life-affirming in the way that cannot be taken back and it's long overdue. And the success of Black Panther should mean that more of these stories will be written and produced and distributed on a grand scale. I say SHOULD, because, well. Shit happens and whiteness loves to do dumb shit like ignore logic, all in the name of racism. More of these stories of Blackness, in all its forms, need to be shared to the world and the possibilities are endless. If nothing else Black Panther should show that our stories are profitable, amazing and necessary. We need more of them all the time in all forms. They won't all look like Black Panther, which is good. They need to be different but they need to exist.

So shoutout to Ryan Coogler and the cast who KILLED IT. And allowed us to come together in joy. I'm officially claiming citizenship of Wakanda.

We feel you, girl. Wakanda forever.

Read the full review via her blog. For more, listen and subscribe to Rants and Randomness via iTunes.

Video: OkayAfrica's 'Black Panther' Celebration at the Brooklyn Academy of Music

OkayAfrica partnered with Brooklyn Academy of Music and D'ussé for an advanced screening, followed by an exclusive Q&A with Ryan Coogler and an epic afterparty.

Ahead of Black Panther's epic release last week, OkayAfrica and Okayplayer hosted an advanced screening and Q+A between director Ryan Coogler and CEO Abiola Oke, followed by our #OkayWakanda afterparty at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

It was a jam-packed event filled with beautiful black folks, coming together to celebrate the film of the year. The Wakandan pride was strong and what's even better is that we caught all the action on camera.

We got a chance to speak with our incredibly dressed attendees live from the red carpet and after party about what the film means to them and why they came out to support it.

Check out all the action from the event and after party in the video below.


We Did It: Three Years of #FeesMustFall Finally Bears Fruit

This year's South African budget shows that struggle can make things better.

Yesterday, South African Minister of Finance, Malusi Gigaba, presented the long-awaited 2018 budget speech. While he was heavily criticised for increasing VAT and the fuel levy, which will heavily impact the poor, students celebrated the R57 billion that will finally be set aside to fund their studies in their entirety.

It was 2015 and I was at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, along with thousands of students from all over the country, waiting to be addressed by former President Jacob Zuma about our demands for a 0% increase in fees for the following year. We were capable students, worthy of being at universities but we were also black and lacking the money to access institutions which were fast becoming financially exclusive. While our core demand was eventually met, we knew it wasn't a complete victory—what about the fees for the following year and the year after that? I still remember how days after that epic march, my ears were still ringing with the phantom sounds of struggle songs and the whizzing of rubber bullets. I don't know if South Africa or the world will ever truly know how that fight scarred so many of us.

In the years that followed, we watched as the government (which claimed it had no money to allocate to tertiary education) squander state resources time and time again. We protested relentlessly; fiercely. We were shot at by police, our campuses looked like war-zones and we wondered whether we would attain the degrees upon which our families hopes rested so heavily.

After Jacob Zuma's resignation a few days ago, I wrote about how the ANC would embark on a journey of some serious ass-kissing in the run-up to the general elections in 2019. I warned Fees Must Fall activists that if ever there were a more opportune time to act, that it was most certainly now. R57 billion rand has been allocated for the funding of tertiary education for students whose household incomes are less than or equal to R350 000 per annum. This will assist not only the poor black working class but the black "missing middle" as well. The entire duration of their degrees will be funded with the added promise of supporting students in terms of food, transport and accommodation costs, all key to making this announcement a full victory and not just a partial one.

Now does this magically solve all our problems as black students? Does it do away with the rampant inequality prevalent on all our university campuses? No, it does not. But what it is, is a step in a very hopeful direction. Of course, it remains to be seen whether this R57 billion will actually serve its purpose and not be misappropriated like so many of our state funds in the past. However, our acting President Cyril Ramaphosa, is looking to make a big splash. He's looking to garner not only our support but our lasting support, so it would stand him in good stead if he ensures his government keeps their word. He has seen (or at least read about) the destruction, the chaos, the physical and psychological damage to our young members of society following numerous Fees Must Fall protests and clashes with the police.

I will never forget that day at the Union Buildings when the police started throwing stun grenades at us and unleashing a barrage of bullets. I will never forget how a young male student stumbled towards my friend and I, his face completely drenched in blood. I will never forget how my friend and I ran out of sheer, naked fear, blindly into the busy streets of the Pretoria CBD and eventually hid ourselves behind a nearby bus stop. I was not as active on the frontlines as so many other students were, not in the least, so I can only begin to imagine the kind of trauma they still have to wrestle with till this day.

The #NationalShutDown in Cape Town on Wednesday, October 21 2015. Photo by Imraan Christian

That is why this announcement, as much as it was a string of words on a piece of paper for a lot of people, meant so much more to the rest of us. It's a sigh of relief for many black students. It means a glimmer of hope for so many black families. It's a chance to dream and to do so without inhibition. This is all we've been fighting for and it feels so damn good to allow ourselves, even for just a moment, to bask in the light that seemed so elusive back then.

Our fallen comrade Solomon Mahlangu, the young man we sang about in our struggle songs, once said that his blood would nourish the tree that would bear the fruits of freedom. He told us to continue the fight. And so to all my comrades, amandla!

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