Meet Nigeria’s first female skeleton Olympian

 (Courtesy of Candice Ward)

(Courtesy of Candice Ward)

Before making history in PyeongChang, Simidele Adeagbo speaks to us about being the first female skeleton Olympian from Africa, her advice for young athletes and why she values education.

On September 12th, 2017, Simidele Adeagbo touched a skeleton sled for the first time. Next week, she will compete in the 2018 Olympics as the first female skeleton athlete from Africa.

Simi’s incredible journey began with her dream of competing in the Olympics — the Summer Olympics that is. The track and field star attended the University of Kentucky where she balanced studying with competing in national triple jump competitions.

 (Courtesy of Candice Ward)

(Courtesy of Candice Ward)

“I was brought up to value education,” Simi says. “My parents have instilled the principle of ‘academics first, athletics second’ in me since I was a young athlete. I believe that knowledge is power and education is the key to unlocking our potential.”

After she graduated from college, Simi continued to pursue her track career. After narrowly missing out on qualifying for the 2008 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Team, she decided to retire from the triple jump. For the next nine years, Simi’s Olympic dreams lay dormant. She moved to Johannesburg, South Africa where she works at Nike as a Marketing Manager.

In late 2016, Simi read about Nigeria’s first female bobsled team, which consists of former track and field athletes turned bobsled racers. Inspired by their story, she reached out to see if they needed another teammate, but discovered they already had a full squad.

In July 2017, Simi saw a post on Instagram advertising tryouts for the Nigerian Bobsled and Skeleton Federation in Houston, Texas. She jumped on a plane to Houston, tried out for skeleton and returned to Johannesburg the very next day. Soon after, Simi received a call from the federation inviting her to train with them in Canada.

Over the next few months, Simi worked hard to qualify for the Olympics — thanks to her running background she has an incredibly fast pushstart. Olympic regulations require skeleton athletes to compete in five races on three different tracks and be the top athlete in the sport from their country. This January, Simi earned a bronze medal in her sixth North American Cup (NAC) race of the season and qualified for the 2018 Olympics.

It feels amazing to be unapologetically blazing a trail and leaving a legacy. I love that through what I’m doing, I’m redefining Africa, and what people think about Africa, and female athletes as well and what’s possible.
— SIMI Adeagbo

Simi’s success is paving the way for future generations of female Winter Olympians from Africa. When asked how it feels to break these barriers, Simi said: “It feels amazing to be unapologetically blazing a trail and leaving a legacy. I love that through what I’m doing, I’m redefining Africa, and what people think about Africa, and female athletes as well and what’s possible. We show up in a way that shows people just who we are. We can really do anything.”

 (Courtesy of Simidele Adeagbo)

(Courtesy of Simidele Adeagbo)

Simi’s path to the Olympics may be different than she first pictured, but she learned valuable lessons along the way. “It’s possible to achieve any goals that I put my mind to through determination, hard work and faith,” she says.

This week, Simi arrived in Pyeongchang and is excited for the “full experience.” She joins Nigeria’s women’s bobsled team and together they make up the country’s first Winter Olympics delegation. Simi says she’s looking forward to every part of being an Olympian: “From the time my teammates and I march in at the Opening ceremonies to the time I race and also the down time having fun and meeting athletes from all over the world. It’s going to be an awesome experience!” Simi races on Friday, February 16 at 6:20 a.m. ET.

Somebody has to make history, why not me? And, why not now?
— SIMI Adeagbo

To the young female athletes looking to Simi as a role model, she offers this advice: “You define who you want to be, and you create the future. The questions that I would ask them to ask themselves are, ‘Why not you?’ And, ‘Why not now?’”

Simi asked herself those very questions when she began this whirlwind journey: “Somebody has to make history, why not me? And, why not now?” The 2018 Olympics are just beginning, but Simi’s journey is already one for the books.


 
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tess Thomas is editor of Assembly, a digital publication and newsletter from Malala Fund. She loves books, cats and french fries.