Even though they are still unsung for raising the stakes in track and field competitions, the exploits of these athletes with disabilities speak volumes nonetheless, writes Gbenga Ogundare.
Can you imagine the audacity of a blind sprinter? The tenacity of a one-legged javelin and Discus thrower? And the pliability of a dwarf towering over others on the field to clinch gold medals? Move over to the Nigeria Sport Festival 2021.
Groping for gold
Oladele Kekere is not a world-renowned athlete yet. Soon this blind sprinter will be. Already, the Lagos-born athlete has sent a strong signal to the world with the gold and bronze medals he won in the 100 and 200 metres (T11 category) at the just-concluded Sport Festival held in Edo State.
“My focus is now on winning more gold medals at the Paralympic games if I get the opportunity’, Kekere reveals to this newspaper.
On one leg she dazzles
Such is the unrelenting ambition of Chidinma Dennis, an amputee who insists her only limb is just enough to propel her to greatness if she gets the chance to represent Nigeria as a javelin and shot-put athlete at the Paralympic Games.
Chidinma, like blind Kekere, has done it on the local scene; so she is not afraid of competing against the best in the world of athletics on the global stage.
Representing Abia State at the Abuja Sports Festival in 2004, Chidinma’s powerful throw of the Javelin, Shot Put and Discuss plucked off the gold medals in the Paralympic category that year. It was her first baptism as a disabled athlete.
She was at her best two years later, this time around at the Gateway Games, Ogun 2006. Chidinma made away with the gold medal in the Shot Put event. She would repeat the same golden feat in the same event three years later at the KADA Games in Kaduna 2009.
The graduate of Economics was back again in Abuja where she won another gold in the Discuss event in 2018.
Small but mighty
Dynamites come in small sizes. This is true of Maxwell Ekenonu, a dwarf athlete who towers above others in Shot Put and Discuss competitions, notwithstanding his size.
For Ekenonu, what is particularly thrilling is his ability to “lean over my challenges to make a mark in sports.”
“I have won several medals, both locally and at international competitions, since I started my sport career,’ Ekenonu narrates.
But that is as far as the excitement goes for the Shot Put champion. Beyond the opportunity to travel around Nigeria and abroad to participate in sporting events, Ekenonu has got nothing to show for his commitment to a career in sport.
Everything but glad tidings
Disability, passion for sport and vision for medals are not the only things that bind this trio together though. They also share the same trials and anguish, this newspaper found out.
Money has always been the disincentive, Kekere laments. “It is painful seeing people like us showing interest in sport but our efforts are been frustrated by some coaches, not minding the stress and rigor from your house to the stadium.
“Most times, I have been robbed by hoodlums and some of my belongings taken from me. I have been beaten by rain and hit by reckless drivers. Most times, money for food will be used to transport myself down to the training ground and at the end, nothing to fall back on as refreshment. All these, coupled with the frustration from either the coaches or other departments, are enough to discourage one,’ gripes Kekere.
Kekere’s lamentation is understandable. Athletes with disabilities are hardly celebrated in Nigeria anyway, this newspaper found out. For instance, in all of her outings as a disabled athlete, Chidinman revealed to this newspaper that it was only in 2004 that she was rewarded for her effort by former Governor Orji Uzor Kalu. And that was the first and last reward she received.
“Life as an athlete is not easy,’ Chidinma groans, ‘One needs money to enable him or her perform better. The training kits, good food, vitamins etc. All these are what I have to take care of.”
Hurdles, more hurdles
Good food, vitamins and training kits are not the only necessities Chidinma, Kekere and Ekenonu need urgently to make a mark on the global sport scene actually. The athletes will need finances too.
Athletes with disabilities hardly compete in enough competitions, this newspaper discovered. According to Ekenonu, “We need to compete with others in order to meet up with international standard.”
“What I need now is sponsorship to enable me participate in international competitions in order to be classified by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC).”
It is the IPC classification that will enable any disabled athlete compete against their peers from around the world.
“I also need a good prosthesis and a better job to help me live a better life,’ Chidinma pleads.
It is a long list of wishes actually. But Chidinma and her kindred in sport can only dream on as the sport sector reels under fraud and unwholesome politics.