Fearful of the roller coasters, Ngozi Onwumere did not know what to expect as she threw herself into a sled and glided for the first time down the icy track of Park City (Utah). When she and driver Seun Adigun slid to a stop beyond the finish line that day in January 2017, they had completed the first official race of the Nigerian women’s sled team. Thanks to determination, inspiration and team spirit, they made their first appearance in the Winter Olympics, not just as regular athletes, but as record breakers for the entire African continent.
Adigun is the team’s pilot in every sense of the word. The country’s first high-speed Olympic sled team also includes Akuoma Omeoga, the team’s second brakeman. One special thing about this trio is that they are Nigerians with American citizenship who competed in high speed and hurdles in American universities.
At the 2012 London Olympics, Adigun represented Nigeria in athletics. There, she ran against former college teammates from the United States, Lolo Jones, who later joined the US women’s sled team. A few years after the London Olympics, Adigun joined other track ex-athletes and began training with the American high-speed sled team. She liked it so much that she decided to go further.
Adigun made her point on her decision to get involved in the game. She expressed that it was something she knew she had to do, and that the sport was increasing while the African continent didn’t have a representation.
When she asked the United States head coach, Brian Shimer to guide her on the creation of a Nigerian team to compete in the Olympic Games, he offered his support and told her, “If someone is going to be able to do it, it’s you”.
Living in Houston, where it snows so rarely, Adigun built a sled with wheels of regulation size to practice on an athletics track. The sled, called “Maeflower” in honor of Adigun’s late sister, Mae, helped the team to train and gave them momentum to move forward.
The women posted videos of themselves building and then training with the “Maeflower” on a fundraising website that became an invaluable resource for their Olympic trip. They exceeded their initial goal of $ 75,000 and gained followers from around the world.
The funds and external support helped the team travel to Nigeria for a “homecoming tour” in April. They visited schools and conducted interviews to introduce themselves, promote the sledge sport and explain that they are determined to take Nigeria to the Winter Olympics. They even showed their training without snow with a replica of the “Maeflower”.
While the team’s unconventional story has made them popular figures, these women have worked hard to prove what they can do on the race track.
When the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation announced that the teams qualified for Pyeongchang, Nigeria was ranked No. 45. This is an impressive achievement for the first season of the team, with just over a year of training while the US team driver Jamie Poser was ranked No. 49.
In an interview with NBC, Adigun said “This is my gift to my country, success would be a legacy that would allow others to emulate my path.”