Growing up, Cool Runnings was our sibling duo's favourite film. They loved the tale of the Jamaican bobsled team's bid overcoming the odds to compete in the Winter Olympic Games. So when we heard about three incredible Nigerian women, Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere and Akuoma Omeoga, wanting to be the first African bobsled team to compete in the Winter Olympics we just had to sit down with them to find out more about their story.
To our disbelief, there are people out there who have not watched Cool Runnings. So, for those unfamiliar with the sport can you give us a bobsleigh 101? Who does what?
Seun (Driver): As a women's team we currently compete in the 2-man event. There is also a 4-man bobsled event, which is currently just for men in Olympic competition. The two positions for the women's teams are a driver and a brakeman. As a driver my job is to successfully navigate the 2-man bobsled from the top of the hill to the bottom finish line using two pulley ropes as my steering.
Ngozi (Brakewoman): Our primary goal is to get the sled to its optimal speed, basically after hopping in the sled.
Akuoma (Brakewoman) Also, our job is to pull the brake when we reach the bottom of the track when the race is over. Can’t forget that!
At Chuku's Nigerian food is at the heart of what we do and we enjoy showcasing how it can fit into a healthy lifestyle. As athletes, how does Nigerian food fit in with your training? And what are your favourite dishes?
Ngozi: Growing up as an athlete in a Nigerian household, diet was never a concern of mine , because automatically Naija food is very hearty and full of vegetables. If that failed, I always had an Aunty to remind me with her greeting."My dear you’re getting fat". Aunties are diet checks in themselves.
Akuoma: It’s fair to say that Nigerian food will remain in my diet as it always has. But I actually do not eat it everyday; because if I did, I guarantee I would be eating all the pastries like chin chin and meat pie. But my favourite meal is ogbono soup.
We were born and raised in London but through our grandmother and mother we grew up in a Nigerian household. What is your own relationship to Nigeria?
Seun: Both of my parents are born and raised Nigerian. As a first generation in the USA, it is only the Nigerian culture that I know and I truly appreciate it
Ngozi: My parents themselves and their bloodlines trace directly back to Nigeria , Imo State to be exact. That same blood runs through me. From the moment I was born, it was emphasised that I was Nigerian first.
Growing up, Emeka had dreams of playing football (you may refer to it as soccer) for a national team but never got the chance to choose between England or Nigeria. How did you decide which was the right country for you to represent?
Seun: I felt like it was my ode to the country to make sure that I did something positive in my lifetime to contribute to the future progress of Nigeria. I am very proud to say that I am a Nigerian when I am asked so I felt that it was additionally necessary to give back wherever I could.
Ngozi: For me it was a no-brainer. Nigeria is deeply embedded in who I am. I like to think my first meal was jollof flavoured formula.
Jollof and plantain baby milk - that’s the dream!
Seun, the next question is for you. You previously talked about taking these two lovely ladies beside you “into this lion’s den in starting this entire federation”. Can you explain why and some of the challenges you guys have faced?
Seun: There are always going to be challenges when you are the first to do something. Most of the hardships that have been faced along this journey have been associated with the fact that there is no blueprint for launching a brand new federation in Africa. Being that bobsled is not a popular sport in its own right, there has just been a very large learning curve to conquer.
You have also called this project your “gift to Nigeria” why do you say that?
Seun: Because my purpose of pioneering the team was not to find a way to "take away" from the country – this initiative has never been about my personal gains or that of anyone else. This has purely been about my intentions of giving back to the country – a genuine gift.
We wholeheartedly agree.It’s such a magical opportunity. It has to be cherished and shared.
Any words of wisdom for our chop-chat-chillers on how to go about pursuing their dreams?
Ngozi: Throw fear to the wind, go for it! Often times fear plays far too much of a role in our lives. Fear shouldn't be able to find a resting place in your life.
But how do you find the energy and the time to balance everything that you do? You are all studying, working and star athletes at the same time.
Seun: We just keep the main goal in mind constantly and use it as a driving force in our lives. When you operate on the premise of 'selflessness' it makes it easy to strive for excellence even when it is difficult to balance - somehow you just figure out how to keep the faith and find a way.
Such a powerful response. Love it! Thank you.
A number of people (ourselves included!) have drawn the comparison between yourselves and the film Cool Runnings, are you a fan of the film and if so, what’s your favourite scene?
Ngozi: one of my favourite scenes is the introductory meeting. "Always remember your bones won't break in a bobsled, they shatter". *silent room*
Haha. Yes, and the lights come on and nobody is left in the room. Classic!
Seun: The part where Malik Yoba tells the character Junior to look in the mirror and tell him what he sees. "I see pride. I see Power!" - My sentiments exactly!
Yes, that’s one of our favourites. It’s funny, as kids, none of us probably realised how inspirational that movie is. It’s just another Disney movie. But looking back now, no doubt it must have moved us subconsciously.
Do you have any nicknames for each other or for the team?
Ngozi: Seun is ADI. And Akuoma is AK. I love nicknames!
Seun: I call Ngozi "Betty" because when she was in college she use to wear a short, curly, afro that made her look like a pretty black version of the cartoon Betty-Boop. Akuoma is AK. I stole that nickname from Nogzi
Wonderful! ADI, Betty, AK it’s been our pleasure. We wish you all the best in your quest for Olympic success. Go Team!
These three amazing ladies are raising funds to get together the equipment and training to make their dream of competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics possible. To support their campaign and be part of history, click here.