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Monday, December 9, 2019

Sports

Nigerian bobsled team with UH track roots headed to Olympics


Akuoma Omeoga, Seun Adigun and Ngozi Onwumere’s bobsled team has made history as the first team from Nigeria to qualify for the Winter Olympics. Adigun and Onwumere are the latest Olympians produced at the University of Houston. | Courtesy of Seun Adigun/Under Armour

Breaking barriers and taking the world by storm while making history. In a little over two weeks time, three Nigerian women, will have those opportunities at the Winter Olympics.

UH track & field alumni Seun Adigun and Ngozi Onwumere and Minnesota track & field alumna Akuoma Omeoga are making history as the first team from Africa, as well as the first women’s team, to qualify for bobsledding at the games. Following in the footsteps of “Cool Runnings,” the film about the first Jamaican Olympic bobsled team, but also carving their own path, the three have become a media sensation as they bring awareness to the sport and women in bobsledding.

“The biggest motivation for the entire process is that this is really bigger than me,” Adigun said. “It’s to help grow a sport and promote women and put Africa on the map.”

The team, so far, has done that. When they arrive in Pyeongchang, South Korea, they will become the first-ever team from Nigeria to compete at the Winter Olympics for any sport. The team has shown that its journey is about more than winning medals — it’s about pursuing your dreams against all odds.

A year and a half ago the team had little, if any, bobsledding experience. But after channeling support from friends and months of practice, the three became a team. On Nov. 16 the team finished its fifth qualifying race, the minimum needed for the Olympics, and was ranked No. 44 in the world by the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation, making Nigeria the highest-ranked African nation and sending them to the Olympics.

“You never know you can succeed unless you try,” Onwumere said in an interview with SheLeadsAfrica.org. “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.”

It is safe to say that while making the Olympics has been a dream for all three, bobsledding is relatively new to them. All three originally competed in track & field on the collegiate level in the United States and internationally.

Adigun and Onwumere are alumni of the Cougar track & field program. As a sprinter, Onwumere was an NCAA Regional Qualifier in the 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and 4x400m relay in 2014.

Adigun was a Conference-USA champion in the 60m hurdles and 100m hurdles in 2008. She went on to win the 100m hurdles at the 2010 African Championships and represent Nigeria at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. She is the most recent Cougar to compete at the Summer Olympics.

Omeoga was a NCAA Preliminary qualifier in the 100m for the Minnesota Golden Gophers during her collegiate career. She and Onwumere both knew Adigun from their track & field careers, and she recruited them to join her team.

All three athletes had more-or-less reached their peaks in terms of track & field competition. But Adigun, who competed for a time with the USA bobsled team, was the mastermind who came up with the idea of creating a bobsled team for Nigeria.

“I had a few friends in track and field when I was competing, and they had gone over to bobsled,” Adigun said. “I thought hey, maybe this is something I can get into.”

Adigun, Onwumere and Omeoga were using a makeshift bobsled that had been created out of their garage in order to train, but they did not own their own bobsled. During their qualifying races they borrowed a bobsled from the Utah Olympic park.

The crew set up a GoFundMe account to pay for the equipment they would need on their journey, ultimately reaching the goal of $75,000 in 14 months. That GoFundMe account led to a sponsorship with Team Visa.

The fundraising, coupled with their success, helped promote the team. As a result the trio has been interviewed by People, CNN and the Washington Post. The three were even guests on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. They explained how popular they have become and how hard they worked.

“The entire experience is humbling, and it’s an honor to know that I can be used as a tool on this earth by God,” Adigun said. “It’s an honor to know that this entire unit is going to be considered historic.”

For the Cougar fan base who will be following their progress next month, Adigun said they should be proud because UH represents diversity, excellence and achievement. UH taught them to take on the fear of the unknown, and so far they have persevered through their challenges.

Adigun encourages students to take that big leap of faith. Regardless of whether they leave the games with a medal or not, these three women have paved the way for others to follow.

“This is really about opening doors when you don’t know what’s on the other end and driving yourself and motivating yourself,” Adigun said. “Even if it feels uncomfortable, in the end it’s worth it for the greater good.”

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