Sports
Photo by Candice Ward.

Meet Simidele Adeagbo—Nigeria's First Female Skeleton Athlete

She's one race away from qualifying for the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang.

Nigeria's Bobsled and Skeleton Federation is already overflowing with black girl magic, but it just got some more. Former track star Simidele Adeagbo is vying to represent the green-white-green and the continent at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. To do so she must snag her fifth qualifying race this week in Lake Placid, New York.


Skeleton is a single rider sport, where an athlete rides a skeleton sled down a frozen track at high speeds while lying face down —whoa! Just like Nigeria's bobsled team, this is the 36-year-old's first go at the sport, but she's determined to use this experience to inspire young Africans to excel at whatever they do.

We caught up with Adeagbo before the holidays and learned how she got involved with skeleton, how she fits training into a busy professional life and more.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Antoinette Isama for OkayAfrica: Can you touch on your background a bit?

Simidele Adeagbo: I lived in Nigeria until I was about 6-years-old and then grew up between the U.S. and Canada. Now, I currently live in Johannesburg, South Africa, and have been there for the last 4 1/2 years.

Growing up I've always been an athlete, loved sports—been passionate about sports. I played a lot of different sports, but I settled in track and field. That's where I really excelled. At the University of Kentucky, I did track and field and was named a four-time All-American—pursuing it after college as well. I just nearly missed making the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Team in the event of triple jump back in 2008. After that, I kind of just moved on with life, moved to South Africa, and was kind of in a different space in life.

How did you get involved with skeleton?

I got to know about the bobsled team around the end of 2016. I think it was actually the OkayAfrica article that I saw online and was really inspired by it. I thought what the ladies were doing was a really awesome thing—in terms of being the ones to blaze this trail in a winter sport that has never been done before for Nigeria and also for the continent. I immediately wanted to be a part of it, so I reached out and kept in touch with them.

In August of this year, there was a tryout in Houston, Texas, so I made the long trip there for the weekend and tried out. I was invited back to a camp that was in September. I went to camp and got to know skeleton, which was not the original plan because I knew more about bobsled, and there's been a history of track and field athletes that make the transition from track and field to bobsled. That's where I got to know about skeleton and I thought that sport was also equally interesting to me because I could still use my talents to serve my country. I've been learning the sport ever since and now I'm just one race away.


Photo by Candice Ward.

How has your learning process been leading up to your last qualifying race? Have you experienced any challenges, especially since you're new to the sport?

The sport is something that I'm still learning every day. I think even when you become an "expert," you're always going to be learning. If you get to a stage where you're not learning, then you should probably move on.

For me being new to the sport, the learning curve has been really steep, and I've tried to just take it one day at a time. I have some coaches who have been helping me, and each day I try to see how I can improve and get better and better. I've done a lot in a short period of time already doing four races, and I've been at three different tracks. I'm challenging myself to really see what I can do, see what's possible, and to qualify.

How has your community of family members and friends reacted to this transition into skeleton?

They have overall really been supportive. I have a great community of friends and family that support me, and are behind me 100 percent, and are encouraging me and cheering me on.

I think the initial reaction is first of all, "What the heck is skeleton?" You know? A lot of people are not familiar with the sport. Some of them are a bit concerned because people think that it looks really scary. And then, I just let them know, "Hey, no. It actually can be fun."

Photo by Candice Ward.

I also read that you currently work at Nike in Joburg. How have you been able to balance training and keeping up with your professional career?

It's definitely not easy, but Nike is a company that supports athletes. I just happen to be an athlete that works in an office. They've been really supportive of this quest from the very beginning, and I just work with the team to see how we can all manage it together.

It's also all about time management. For me, I need both to be really myself. I need the challenge physically to make sure I'm pushing my athletic side. And then, intellectually I love being in the office and be able to do a lot of the great things that we do as a brand, but they're all interconnected. Nike is a brand, like I said, that really is all about serving the athlete. Every day when I go to work is about how we can inspire people to do their best whatever that is for them as an athlete, so the two are very linked and go hand-in-hand.

In the wake of 17-year-old Ghanaian-born Maame Biney qualifying for the USA Olympic speedskating team, I think it's cool that we're seeing more African women lead the way in representing our communities in unconventional spaces. If you had to give advice to young African girls who have become interested in winter sports, what are some things that you would advise them to consider?

I came across it online as well and I thought that that was really, really cool. Living on the continent, there's so many challenges that face young people today, young females especially, so the fact that they can see these female athletes who are just doing it unapologetically and leaving a legacy is great because for me, part of this is really about how we redefine Africa, and what people think about Africa, and what's possible. We show up in a way that shows people just who we are. We can really do anything.

I think that's the encouragement that I would share with any young person is that you define who you want to be, and you create the future. The questions that I would ask them to ask themselves are, "Why not you?" And, "Why not now?" Those are the same questions I asked myself at the beginning of this—"Somebody has to make history, why not me? And, why not now?"

Why not use all of the gifts that I have to inspire people, so I'm not the first and last? Hopefully, the idea is that this opens doors for future generations of African athletes. Don't limit yourself, the possibilities are really limitless. Create your lane however you want to do it. It's really up to you.

Culture

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.


Politics

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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