Though many Nigerians did not expect much from the athletes to the London 2012 Olympics, but not returning without a medal was particularly shameful. That disappointing feeling was somewhat redeemed by the country’s paralympians who returned with 13 medals. A member of the team, Esther Oyema, who won gold in powerlifting speaks with KUNLE ADEWALE
Esther Oyema who lifted 135kg to set a new world record in the women’s 48kg powerlifting category said of her feat: “I was not surprised at all that I won gold in the 48kg powerlifting, especially when you consider the kind of training I subjected myself to ahead of the 2012 Paralympics in London. The fact that Nigerians were bitter with the performance of our athletes to the London Olympics also spurred me on. Some of us really wanted to prove a point that where the able bodied men failed we can excel and we also wanted to use it as an avenue to fight for equality and for the government to stop the discrimination; that we also are Nigerians and members of the society and therefore should enjoy the same privilege with the able bodied men and women.”
The Paralympians indeed proved a point which was acknowledged by the Minister of Information, Labaran Maku.
“They have wiped away our tears. The message they have sent is that we need a greater passion in what we do. Their performance confirmed that every citizen is important. The reception will send a clear message that all is important,” Maku noted during the reception for the paralympians.
On how she felt when she won gold, the world record holder in the 48 kg said she was very elated and close to tears.
“I was very happy when I was declared the winner but the emotional aspect of it was when I was being decorated with the medal and the Nigerian national anthem was being played; it was at that point that I could not really hold the tears. I battled with it over and over but could not hold it back and am happy it was tears of joy. I was not surprised because I worked very hard for it. I feel very good and I decided to be a world beater and to be a champion. I never doubted my ability.
“There are more records to be broken and I will keep going by the grace of God. My joy knew no bound because I set a new world record, as anything short of that would have been a disappointment because of the effort I put into training prior to the Paralympics was enormous,” she said.
President Goodluck Jonathan indeed rewarded the country’s Paralympians for their remarkable feat at the Paralympics Games with cash and award of national honour of Member of the Order of the Niger (MON), on the six gold medal winning Paralympians.
“You represented our country to the best of your abilities. You competed among the very best in the world and still kept your heads. You made us proud, and I commend your exceptional courage. You are our heroes and heroines! The Paralympians demonstrated to their fellow countrymen and women that being physically challenged is no barrier. You all helped to remind the world that Nigeria is still a force in sports, we thank you,” Jonathan told them.
Oyema will however forever be grateful to President Jonathan for hosting and recognizing the Paralympians.
“If somebody had told me before now that I will meet with the president of Nigeria and look at him eyeball-to-eyeball I would think it’s a silly dream because this was not the first time we have represented the country and we were not rewarded. It was therefore a pleasant surprise that we were not only hosted but were showered with financial rewards not only by government but also by corporate organizations. I cannot but commend the president and all those that have thought it judicious to bless us. I really thank and appreciate them,” she said.
Asked how she intends to spend the five million Naira given to her by the president, Oyema said she will use part of it to further her education, build her own house and take care of her younger ones and family.
“The future is very important and you have to strive hard to secure it. Five million naira sounds big and if one is not careful enough it will not be well utilized and that will be the end of it. So, I’ll do everything to make the best use of the money so that I don’t go begging tomorrow,” she said.
Though Esther still looks forward to competing at the next Paralympics Games slated for Rio, she said her education and settling down is paramount to her.
“I’m still very good for the next games in 2016, but my education and getting married are priorities. I’m not getting any younger so I need to get married and start having my kids. But that does not stop my competing and doing well at the highest level,” she noted.