Para Powerlifters: Nigeria’s Unsung Heroes

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Chronicling Nigeria’s sporting history won’t be complete without the accomplishments and medals won by the para powerlifting athletes of the Nigeria Para Powerlifting Federation, writes Ojo Maduekwe

Each time someone compiles a list of Nigeria’s greatest sports people, they are very likely to capture the following names: Jay-Jay Okocha, Hakeem Olajuwon, Segun Toriola, Kanu Nwankwo, Mary Onyali, Dick Tiger, Vincent Enyeama, Hogan ‘Kid’ Bassey, Blessing Okagbare, Sunday Oliseh, Chioma Ajunwa, Stephen Keshi, Rashidi Yekini, Mercy Akide, Segun Odegbami, Muda Lawal, Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Teslim Balogun, Christian Chukwu and Enefiok Udo-obong.

These are some of Nigeria’s greatest in the history of football, table tennis, long jump, basketball, athletics, and boxing. Although some of them are dead now, the special place they enjoy in Nigeria’s sporting history is such that when discussed by sports lovers, their accomplishments prompt a nostalgic feeling.

But a compilation of the greatest sports people in Nigeria won’t be complete without names like Bose Omolayo, Lucy Ejike, Kehinde Paul, Loveline Obiji, Roland Ezuruike, Ben Nsimi, Ishiaku Ruel, Ibrahim Olaitan, Ibrahim Abdulazeez, Nwosu Ndidi, Oluwafemiayo Folashade, Latifat Tijani and Nnamdi Innocent.

You are probably wondering who these people are? They are Nigeria’s finest achievers and unsung sport heroes, representing the country in a category that like themselves, was once disregarded for much of its history; I am talking about the para powerlifting sector of Nigeria’s sports sector. These people are not just some African champions, their medals span across the globe.

Para Heroes

No Nigerian athlete have won medals, gold and silver, back to back like the para powerlifters have been doing every year in major para powerlifting competitions across the world. Their recent wins in the continent and international stage have been very phenomenal. Presently they are rated the best globally.

Take Lucy Ejike for example, she was listed on the official website of the World Para Powerlifting as one of the five big stars to watch out for in 2019. Described in the post as a “legend”, Ejike currently holds the world mark of the 142kg category she had set at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

Between 2000 and 2016 Ejike competed at five para powelifting games, winning three golds and two silvers, and was named Female Athlete of the Year at the 2016 Nigeria Sports Awards. Recently she sealed silver in the women’s lightweight at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia. She also cleared the bar at 131kg to win gold medal at the 2018 African Championships.

Roland Ezuruike is another Nigerian legend. He started the sport in 2014, where he won silver at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. This was his first and only silver since then. Ever since, he has been on a gold winning spree. He topped the podium at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, and in 2017 he won his first World Championship title in the men’s up to 54kg with a 180kg lift.

He won his maiden Commonwealth Games title in Gold Coast, Australia, in 2018, extending his three year-long winning streak. Months before the commonwealth games, he had taken gold at the 9th Dubai World Cup. We also have Bose Omolayo who last year, at the 2018 World Para Powerlifting African Championships in Algiers, made history by breaking the women’s up to 79kg world record on the final day of competition.

Omolayo lifted 137kg in her second attempt, but then failed to clear the bar at 139kg in her third attempt, only for her to succeed in lifting 139.5kg in the fourth.

This feat meant that Omolayo broke the world record of 138.5kg that China’s Xu Lili had set at the Mexico City 2017 World Championships.

At the same Algiers outing, Loveline Obiji, Nigeria’s London 2012 gold medalist defeated Egypt’s Randa Mahmoud lifting 145kg to finish first in the over 86kg. It was the first time Obiji had beaten Mahmoud since 2012.

Nnamdi Innocent, who was Nigeria’s Rio 2016 bronze medalist (200kg), took gold in the men’s up to 72kg competition, winning ahead of Algeria’s Billel Bouchefra (151kg) and Uganda’s Muhamed Nigo (125kg). At the end of the outing, Nigeria ended top of the overall medals table with 11 golds and two silvers.

For their many victories, the World Para Powerlifting describes Nigeria as “home to several of the world’s strongest powerlifters”, and the 2018 World Para Powerlifting official world rankings places Nigeria in good position.

Nigeria’s para powerlifters are not just the best in the world; they’re known to hold the highest world record at various international championships. Nigeria is the defending champion of Commonwealth Games, having won the six available medals in a 2010 and 2014 outing. Medals so far won by the athletes are the highest ever won by any federation of Nigerian athletes till date.

Last year, the six para powerlifting athletes that represented Nigeria in the powerlifting events of the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, each clinched a medal, returning with a total of six medals. Also at the event, Esther Onyema set a new world record after securing a lift of 131kg.

Queen of Para Powerlifters

The president of Nigeria Para Powerlifting Federation, Queen Uboh, who is indeed considered the Queen of Nigeria’s Para Powerlifting sport is passionate about the athlete’s welfare, and as president of the federation continues to tirelessly canvass for support from private sponsors.

Recounting the feat of the federation last year, she said the para powerlifters “made sure the nation anthem was heard, even where the able-bodied athletes couldn’t succeed. We went with only six athletes to Gold Coast and each of them came back with a medal. If we had presented more than six athletes we would have won more medals”.

She once said, “Most stakeholders in the country do not really care and think about these disabled athletes, who even with their condition continue to make this nation proud anytime they have the opportunity to represent their fatherland.”

Sponsorship

The fortune of the federation and the athletes has since changed under her leadership. Private organisations are now tripping over themselves to support the federation. Presently, the list of sponsors for the 2019 International Para Powerlifting Competition include FrieslandCampina Wamco, makers of Peak milk; other sponsors are Heritage Bank, Total Nigeria Plc, Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), AirFrance KLM, Ginklat Capsule, Lagos State Government, Lagace Water and the Ministry of Youth and Sports.

2019 Host

Following their sterling performance over the years, Team Nigeria didn’t just win medals; they also made the country proud and positioned it well in the world para powerlifting community such that Nigeria will be hosting the 2019 International Para Powerlifting Competition running through January 24 – 31.

In June 2018, Nigeria was given the hosting rights after the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) visited the country to inspect facilities and hotels to evaluate the country’s preparedness to host the event. The Lagos Oriental Hotel, Victoria Island was chosen as venue for the event.

At the Lagos outing, Nigeria will be showcasing 60 athletes, made up of 20 new revelations and 40 renowned and celebrated powerlifters that will compete against 10 other nations, and with 20 gold medals at stake.

The Governor of Lagos, Akinwunmi Ambode had pledged the state’s readiness in hosting the event when the Minister of Youths and Sports, Mr. Solomon Dalung, led a delegation of members of the International Paralympics Committee and the Nigeria Para Powerlifting Federation to the governor in June 2018.

This is a long time coming, the making of history; one that has seen the Nigeria Para Powerlifting Federation doing everything in its capacity to see the country delivers a world class event. This epoch making event is a huge responsibility for Nigeria since our athletes are rated the best in the world.