Simidele Adeagbo just became the first African woman to qualify for the Winter Olympics in skeleton – a sport she only took up at the end of last year!
Even if you’re not the sporty type, chances are, at some point, you’ve watched the Olympics and wondered, “What if….” What if you hadn’t given up on high school swimming because the chlorine turned your hair green? What if you’d taken athletics more seriously? What if you were to take up some random sport and get good enough at it to qualify? Flights of fancy for most of us. But for 36-year-old Simidele Adeagbo, that was exactly the key to making her Olympic dreams come true.
Almost An Olympian
Simi was born in Toronto, but her parents were Nigerian and she lived in Nigeria until she was six, before moving to America. She had a knack for athletics and, by the time she was 26, she held the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) record for triple jump at the University of Kentucky. Simi attempted to qualify for the Olympics in triple jump, but she fell short. Hopes dashed, she gave up on being an athlete. She decided she’d just be a regular person who stayed in shape, but would never compete again. And that’s where the story should have ended. But Simi’s story was only beginning.
Give It Another Go
Fast forward ten years and Simi, now 36, is living in Joburg and working as the running brand manager for Nike. So far, so ordinary. Until, last year, her life took a turn for the stuff-you-only-see-in-movies. Simi read an article about the Nigerian bobsled team whose dream was to be Africa’s first bobsled team to go to the Winter Olympics. “I was super inspired and instantly thought, hmm, ‘I wonder if I could be a part of that?’” she recalls. So she contacted them and asked if she could join the team – but it was already full.
Then, in July, Simi saw an Instagram post announcing tryouts for the Nigerian Bobsled and Skeleton Federation in Houston, Texas. And this is where it becomes clear that Simi is not like the rest of us. She hopped on a plane to the US, took part in the tryouts and flew back to SA the next day. “I felt I had nothing to lose and I didn’t want to be wondering, ‘what if?'” says Simi. “I was also hooked by the opportunity to leave a legacy and break barriers. I thought that somebody had to make history so I asked myself, ‘Why not me’ and ‘Why not now?'”
The gamble paid off. Simi got a call-back and, at the age of 36, her career as a skeleton athlete began. “My age has been an asset for me throughout this journey. I’m in awesome physical shape and I’m the strongest mentally that I’ve ever been,” she says. “With age comes great wisdom and I’ve been able to stay tough, relaxed and focused through all the ups and downs. I don’t let my age define me or my goals and I’m just enjoying the ride.”
Rushing In Head First, Literally
Until last year Simi had never done skeleton before. If you don’t know what the sport is about, imagine jumping onto a one-person sled and launching it onto a downhill ice track, head first, with nothing attaching you to the sled but your ability to cling on for dear life. So, not exactly, you know, chess. But that wasn’t stopping Simi. “I have faith, I’m very determined and have stayed committed to my goal. Those characteristics have given me my drive,” she says.
This is what it looks like to start a run…
Simi used the skills she’d mastered years ago as a triple jump athlete to help her with skeleton. “I honestly didn’t know much about the sport, but knew that there was a lot that I could draw from my track and field background to help me succeed in it,” she says. “In each, you run as fast as you can for about 30 meters to gain momentum before you launch into or onto something. I was able to pick up the push start very, very quickly because I already had that experience with the runway of triple jump.
Of course launching onto the sled is just the start. Then there’s the matter of that downhill slide. “On a good run, it’s really thrilling! You feel the speed and it’s fun to ride out the twists and turns of the track,” says Simi. “On a more challenging run, it can feel turbulent because you may be hitting lots of walls throughout the track.” Eina! “On my best runs, I’m not thinking about much at all. My mind is clear and I’m in a zone. I think about executing the plan that I have for the run and just having fun.”
Check out this video of Simi in action…
It’s also about staying in peak physical condition. Simi’s been training herself, doing Olympic lifts (cleans and snatches), plyometrics (explosive jumping moves including variations on box jumps), sprints and core-strengthening work. To simulate pushing her heavy sled, she pushes a big box with weights on top. “It’s all about getting more explosive and quick off the block, and stronger and faster overall,” she says. But since taking up the sport, she’s also started training ice sessions with a coach and has plans to spend some time in Canada, honing her skills.
Olympics, Here I Come!
Last weekend, ten years after giving up on being an athlete, Simi’s dream came true. She qualified for this year’s Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. “I was overwhelmed with emotion,” she says. “I thought about everything it took for that moment to be realised; all the hard work, all the disappointments, all the triumphs. I was so thankful that I persevered and was able to finally make my dream a reality.”
It’s official! I’m an Olympian! I’m honored to be the 1st Nigerian, African & Black female athlete to be represented in the sport of Skeleton at the Winter Olympics! Faith has turned my God-given dream into a reality! Thx everyone for all ur love & support. Next stop is Pyeongchang! ??????????????????#breakingbarriers #historyinthemaking #bsfnigeria #godissogood ?@candicewardphotography
Just as she was inspired by the Nigerian bobsled team, Simi is hoping to inspire others. “I’m hoping my story will show people what’s possible and that we can do anything. Also, that we define who we want to be, and we have to create the future. We shouldn’t limit ourselves, because the possibilities are really limitless.”