Aniekeme Alphonsus… A Gift From Mobil Athletics To Africa
The 2011 edition of the Mobil Schools Athletics Championship will forever remain green in the memory of African rising star, Aniekeme Alphonsus, in particular and officials of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN), in general.
The yearly schools championship, a baby of the NNPC/MPN Joint Venture, has produced many stars for the country in the field of athletics in the last 14 years. One of such stars is female sprinter, Alphonsus, who cut the eyes of AFN officials in 2011 when she emerged the overall best female athlete for schools and colleges in Akwa Ibom State.
At that edition, Alphonsus won three gold medals, the 100m and 200m before anchoring her school to gold in the 4x100m relay. She became an instant heroine, as AFN officials present at the ceremony in Eket marked her as a potential star for the future, if she was well tracked and coached.
Before she hit her mark in 2011, the 16-year-old Aniekeme Alphonsus, a product of Community Secondary School, Ikot Abia Idem in Ikot Ekpene, had ran into interest and attraction in 2009, when, as an SSI student, won a gold medal in the 100m and a silver in the 200m.
She returned in 2010 and was again entered for the 100m and 200m, but she placed second in both races. Two years ago (2013), the NNPC/MPN Joint Venture decided to hold a two week holiday camping programme for athletes, who were champions in their various fields during the 2011/2012 Mobil schools champions, as a way of giving them the needed exposure for the future.
The two weeks camping, which took place in neighbouring Calabar, Cross River State capital, offered the athletes a real opportunity, as they were exposed to modern equipment, where they sharpened their skills and technics in track and field.
Alphonsus was one of those who enjoyed that privilege of running for the first time in the tartan tracks of the U.J.Esuene Stadium, Calabar.
Under the tutelage of top Nigerian coaches, including Amelia Edet, Solomon Abari, Onuaguluchi Kenechukwu, Sule Oluyomi, Utitofon Nkantah, Stephen Nuhu and Ogunjimi Lucas, Alphonsus was able to showcase her true potential, leading to her invitation to the National athletics camp.
The city of Abuja played host to the first Nigeria Junior sports festival in 2013, and the Mobil star (Aniekeme Alphonsus), was one of the athletes that made Akwa Ibom State team.
At the end of the festival, Akwa Ibom track and field team, made up of the Mobil trained athletes, won six gold, five silver and seven bronze medals to place first. Alphonsus was the architect of that glory, coming out as the fastest female junior athlete in the land, capturing both the 100m and 200m gold and anchoring the state 4x100m relay team to gold.
It remains one major sports achievement for the state since its creation in 1987 by the General lbrahim Babangida administration.
That outing in Abuja projected Alphonsus on the road to fame, earning her an automatic ticket to the national team. In preparation for 12th African Junior Athletics Championships in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, early this year, she was among athletes invited by the AFN to camp in Shagamu, Ogun State, and Alphonsus blossomed. “She is a star in the making,” National Athletics coach and President Nigeria Athletics Coaches Association, Gabriel Okon, said, while recalling his encounter with Alphonsus at Shagamu camp. “Alphonsus is a natural athlete who needs only a little push to rule the waves. With the benefit of proper coaching and right diet, this is a world champion in the making,” Okon emphasized.
The 12th African Junior Athletics Championships in Addis Ababa was the first international competition for the young Alphonsus. But that did not stop her from running 11.69 seconds in the 100m to grab a silver medal for Team Nigeria.
She ran 24.00 seconds to pick a bronze in 200m, but was able to lead the country’s 4x100m to gold in the girl’s relay. For Alphonsus, it was a dream come true, as she declared at the end of the championship in Addis Ababa. “I thank all those who helped me get this far.
I want to thank Mobil Producing very sincerely for offering me the opportunity to expose my talent. “Without the AKS/NNPC/MPN Schools Athletics competition, I would have been nowhere.
I thank their consultant Mr. Paul Bassey, who right from the beginning believed in me and has been supporting me,” she said in emotional voice, waving the green-white-green Nigerian flag. Alphonsus also thanked former Akwa Ibom Governor, Godswill Akpabio, for building a world-class edifice, Nest of Champions, in Uyo. “In 2013, we had to go to Calabar to train, but now, I do not have to stress myself as all the facilities are within the doorstep of Akwa Ibom youth. I dedicate my medals to Mobil and His Excellency, Governor Akpabio.”
Training for Aniekeme and coach Daniel Umoh Ette was before now, a nightmare, as the spike shoes made available to her by Mobil lay fallow due to the absence of tartan tracks in Akwa Ibom State. But all that is now history as she trains regularly at the Akwa Ibom International Stadium complete with tartan tracks and modern athletics equipment courtesy Governor Akpabio.
The 16-year-old Alphonsus, a native of Obot Akara local government area in Akwa Ibom state, is the sixth child in a family of seven. Alphonsus, who said she inherited her father’s passion for athletics, was again in the Nigerian team to the African Junior Athletics Championships in Mauritius in April.
But unlike their outing in Addis Ababa, where Team Nigeria emerged top on the medals table, the outing in Mauritius was different, as lack of funds saw the team arriving late at the venue, thereby missing the sprint races.
However, a young Alphonsus opted for the long jump, the first time ever in her life. She got a silver medal with a distance of 5.60 metres. She then crowned her effort with a gold medal, when she ran Nigeria’s second leg in the medley relay.
Watching her daughter blossoming in sports, an overjoyed father, Mr. Alphonsus Etim, a civil servant with Ini Local Government of the state said: “See what exposure can do to one’s ambition. I was a very fast runner in my time, yet we did not have the benefit of a high class championship like the one Mobil brought to Akwa Ibom State, so we could not be noticed.”
The Manager, Public and Government Affairs, MPN, QIT, who directly supervises the yearly AKS/NNPC/MPN track event, Mrs. Regina Udobong, says she is delighted with the progress made by Aniekeme Alphonsus in her athletics career. “Don’t forget that we have been consistent with this programme for the past 14 years and it has been a success story.
Before now, we have discovered dozens of stars who also made it to the national camp and today, Ifiok Andrew is in the United States furthering his career and receiving quality track and field training.”
During the closing ceremony of the last Championship in Uyo, the 14th in the series, The General Manager Public and Government Affairs Mobil Producing Nigeria, Mr. Paul Arinze, reiterated his company’s resolve to support the Nigerian youth attain his or her potential in any field of choice. “We will continue to add value to the community and economy where we operate, especially in education and the empowerment of future generations.”
She is looking forward to test her skills with the ‘big girls’ in next week’s All Nigerian Open, which will serve as selection of track and field athletes for both the World Championship in Beijing, China and the All African Games holding in Congo Brazzaville in September.
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