By Theresa Gonzalez
Sub-saharan climate and bobsledding—the sport of gunning it down an icy incline with a gravity-pulled sled—don't exactly come to mind as a perfect pairing, so when three track and field stars, including Olympian Seun Adigun, decided to team up as the first Nigerian Women’s Bobsled Team with the goal of competing in the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, Visa and many others took notice.
“I wanted to get back into Olympic sport, and I was tapped out of track and field, having done it for three years professionally and pretty much most of my youth,” said Adigun, a first-generation Nigerian American who competed in the London 2012 Olympic Games for Nigeria. “I decided that I wanted to try something different.”
That meant convincing fellow teammates Akuoma Omeoga and Ngozi Onwumere, also U.S.-based professional track and field athletes, to come along for the ride and represent their parents’ home country in the sport. “It was probably a five-minute conversation,” said Adigun. They needed little convincing to make the switch.
“Track and field and bobsledding are actually pretty similar in terms of the technicalities and training,” said Onwumere, now a brakeman on the team. “The start of a race is actually very similar to the start of a track race, just the buildup. You have to push. In track and field, you have to push as well.”
Adigun, whose father was a star soccer player in Nigeria and grandfather, a legendary tennis player and Olympic Games coach, added: “Most teams do not train with bobsled-specific venues until the snow comes around, so all you need is a track and a weight room.”
Still, training in Houston, Texas, where they all live, was far from a prime spot for winter sports. Adigun put her novice carpentry skills to the test to prep for their first official race. “I went to the hardware store and thought, ‘OK, if I'm going to be away from the [Bobsled] circuit, I need to build a training tool that's going to keep me as competitive as everyone else,” she said. She spent nearly 72 hours straight in her garage, drilling and hammering, to build what became known as the Maeflower, a wooden version of a competitive bobsled. Saying that she’s committed to fulfilling this dream is an understatement—all while training she is also completing her final year of post-graduate work toward a doctorate of chiropractic and masters of science in sports medicine.
To fund the operation (high-tech bobsleds are not cheap), Adigun also launched a crowdfunding page to help raise the money that would steer the trio into the Olympic Winter Games. Then they got a call from Visa.