The beauty of the Olympics is the possibilities they offer.
For some, it’s medals and records. For others, it’s the experience and the memories that will last a lifetime.
And then there are those who want nothing more than to inspire. To plant the seed of an idea, and provide the motivation necessary to make it grow.
Seun Adigun and Akuoma Omeoga knew they wouldn’t challenge for a medal in women’s bobsled at the Pyeongchang Olympics. Indeed, the Nigerians were dead last after the first two heats Tuesday night, and the 3.50-second gap between them and the leaders might as well be a chasm in a sport decided by tenths and hundredths of a second.
But there is a greater purpose in their presence here. As the first bobsled team from an African country, they will forever be an example of what happens when you dare to chase a dream.
“You can do whatever you want,” Omeoga said. “If you see our faces and we inspire you to do something, then that’s absolutely all we ask for.”
Adigun and Omeoga are Americans, with family ties to Nigeria. You might have heard of Adigun’s second cousin, in fact, the NBA Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon.
Both ran track in college, Adigun at Houston and Omeoga at Minnesota, and Adigun represented Nigeria at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Two years later, as Adigun watched Aja Evans and some other track friends make the transition to bobsled, she decided to give it a try, too.
She initially trained with the U.S. team, starting as a brakeman. When she heard that Nigeria didn’t have a bobsled program, however, something clicked. She recruited Omeoga and Ngozi Onwumere, and together they formed the Bobsled and Skeleton Federation of Nigeria.
To say it was a barebones operation is an understatement. They started a crowdfunding campaign to pay for training – they raised $75,000 – and built a wooden sled so Omeoga and Onwumere could learn how to push.
Which begs the question of how, exactly, one builds a bobsled. Even a crude replica of one.
“You just kind of walk through a hardware store and think that this works and that works and this wood is long enough and that one is and let’s hammer it all together,” Adigun said.
Simple, but it worked well enough that within three months of teaming up in October 2016, the Nigerian team was on ice for the first time at a race in Park City, Utah.
The Nigerians haven’t raced on the World Cup circuit, securing their spot in Pyeongchang through a lower-tiered circuit, instead.
Still, to go from zero to the Olympics in less than 18 months is no small feat.
“You have these outlandish kind of ideas, and then all of the sudden you see them slowly but surely manifest themselves into reality,” Adigun said. “Every milestone that comes, everyone that gets involved, you start to see it come together.”
The Nigerians are competing 30 years after Jamaica’s “Cool Runnings” sled shattered the myth that you have to have winter to be a Winter Olympian, and they welcome the comparisons between the teams. Just as the Jamaicans opened a whole new world of possibilities for their island nation, the Nigerians hope they can do the same for the African continent.
Already, Adigun and Omeoga said, the Nigerian Olympic Committee is hearing from others who want to join them on their crazy journey.
“I don’t think it’s hit us how impactful this whole process is actually going to be in the long run,” Adigun said. “We’re so honored and humbled to be in the position that we are, to be able to show people that impossible is nothing. And that you don’t have to quantify things by just a result, a first place, second place or any time.”
Every Olympian is fueled by a dream. The confirmation that it’s achievable is a prize in and of itself.
By Nancy Armour
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.