Unstoppable Nigeria powerlifters get peak lift

A Nigerian fan waves a scarf as he celebrates after the FIFA World Cup 2018 qualifying football match between Nigeria and Zambia in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, on October 7, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / PIUS UTOMI EKPEI

We can all agree that the best strategy to excel at competitive sport is to find your strengths and concentrate on them. Based on this, we can also agree that Nigeria does not seem to have received the memo. While football is far and away the number one sport, both in terms of following and funding, on the biggest sporting stage of all – the Olympics – it accounts for one medal.

For all our passion, we are not consistently good enough to challenge the best countries in the world in the sport we claim to love so much. In spite of this, we have not hesitated to neglect other sports, especially one of our most prolific disciplines: para-athletics.It goes without saying really that our Paralympians are the ones we turn to when the shame of rank underperformance at the Olympics clings to us like a stench. Time and again, they have achieved global success, especially so with our para-powerlifters.

Yet, to pay a visit to their base of operations as recently as four months ago was a sobering experience. The National Stadium Power Gym was built as part of the National Stadium, Surulere, for the 1973 All Africa Games. The disrepair into which that edifice has fallen is well-documented, and the gym was not exempt: improbably, the same equipment had been in stock at the gym for the 45 years since the stadium was completed.

Moribund equipment; bad lighting – on stepping into the gym, it would routinely take about 10 minutes to adjust your eyesight; and neglect from the government and country they train to serve. It is a wonder that, in spite of these odds, our Paralympians have achieved anything near as much as they have.

So impressive have they been, in fact, that national para-powerlifting coach Feyisetan Are told me that many from other shores had been keen to come and discover for themselves the “secret” of our success. He declined; if they had seen the reality, the logical assumption would have been that athletes must be doping—so deplorable were the conditions!

It was this striving against the odds to produce excellence, this refusal to be limited, that caught the eye of Friesland Campina WAMCO Nigeria PLC, makers of Peak Milk. First, they committed to providing beverage to the athletes, and then they committed to refurbishing the Power Gym itself. Re-equipped with state-of-the-art training apparatus, properly lit, and looking spruce, the new National Stadium Power Gym was unveiled on the 19th of January, 2018.

“One of the main reasons why the brand decided to embark on the renovation was because they believe it could help to serve as big motivation for our youths,” said Bolaji Abimbola, Managing Director of Integrated Indigo Ltd, the PR Agency in charge of the unveiling. 

“It is meant to send them a good signal that everything is possible if they put their mind to it. It is also to remind them that they are unstoppable provided they are committed to achieving their goals. And what other better way to do that than to tell the remarkable stories of these Paralympian who have accomplished so much regardless of the odds around them.”

Of course, even the gym’s former state was once the very highest standard obtainable. As with most things built in Nigeria, the bane was a non-existent maintenance culture. Present at the event was the Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung, and he lauded the project, while pledging to personally supervise its continued maintenance. 

With these athletes having made so much out of so little, it is exciting to see just what they can achieve with some proper support. Sport isn’t always that linear, of course, but only with investment like this can we achieve global relevance.

It is often said that one does not speak ill of the dead, and in Nigeria we have taken that aphorism to its extreme quite frequently.Yet, in the late Deji Tinubu, there was a man of whom no one could speak any evil. A father, brother, friend, and a true gentleman: he was humble, and lived a peaceable life, worthy of emulation. 

He knew how to defuse even the most tense situations, and it isn’t a stretch to say that, if you did not get along with him, then you needed to look in the mirror. May he rest in peace. 

In this article:
Oluwashina Okeleji
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