Three Nigerian-American women are making history, creating Africa’s first-ever bobsled team aiming to go to the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea
Driver Seun Adigun and brakewomen Ngozi Onwumere and Akuoma Omeoga all come from elite track and field backgrounds. Adigun and Onwumere competed for the University of Houston and Omeoga was an athlete with the University of Minnesota.
Adigun, who is an Olympian and chiropractic doctoral candidate, became interested in bobsled after she competed in the 2012 Summer Games in London and saw some of her teammates make the switch to the winter sport.
“I’ve been used to the sprinting part and the getting strong part, but the whole idea of going 80 miles an hour down an ice mountain is definitely something that’s new!” Adigun told SPMG Media.
She has been training as a driver in Whistler, B.C., and in Park City, Utah, but admitted that the most difficult hurdle was getting used to the motion sickness that came with the sport.
“I love roller coasters, but this is like a roller coaster times a thousand! It’s quite the ride,” she said. “But once I got over that, it was like, ‘O.K., I can do this.’”
While training and competing as a brakewoman with the American bobsled team last year, Adigun learned that the sport could benefit from having more female teams. She also found out that Nigeria was interested in expanding their winter sports program but didn’t have winter athletes and that no African country had ever been represented in bobsled.
“My conscience just wouldn’t let me breathe knowing that all of these things that were so much bigger than me were available to actually do and help impact, really, what could be millions of people,” she said.
“We’re not just talking about the federation and the sport of bobsled, but we’re talking about the entire continent of Africa and being able to empower those individuals into something they may not have ever considered.”
USA Bobsled & Skeleton confirmed to Global News that Adigun was released from the American team upon request so that she could develop the Nigerian program – a choice that was difficult to make.
“Starting the Nigerian Women’s Bobsled team was not an easy decision, but I know it will be one of the most impactful things I will ever initiate,” wrote Adigun. “The fate of Nigeria’s eligibility to be represented in the 2018 Winter Olympics rests exclusively on my ability to qualify as a competent driver.”
Adigun recruited Onwumere and Omeoga, who she met through track and field, and persuaded them to join her in creating the bobsled team. The trio say the biggest challenge now is getting people on board with them and understanding their mission.
“That challenge, although a true reality, is not handicapping us. It’s something that we’re collectively working together to achieve and utilizing the help of everyone else who is willing to be there with us and for us,” said Adigun, who said the country of Nigeria is supportive of them.
The team is also aware of all the comparisons to the Jamaican bobsled team and Cool Runnings references that are bound to be used.
“But honestly, coming up with this team had very little to do with the actual movie and everything to do with the legacy it created,” Adigun told BuzzFeed News.
The driver said she feels confident in the team’s strategy of qualifying for the 2018 Winter Games, calling their goals “very realistic.”
But for them, this is more than just about one Olympic goal or their personal successes.
“It’s about trying to bring about a level of pride for everybody and expand on positive awareness for the country and the continent.”