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.