A trio of Nigerian women are making history as the continent’s first-ever bobsled team to compete in the Winter Olympics.
Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere and Akuoma Omeoga are expected to compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, next year as the first-ever African representatives — male or female — to qualify for the Winter Games in the sport of bobsled.
“I basically got into the sport of bobsledding in 2015 after a little bit of a hiatus from athletics,” Adigun tells PEOPLE, noting that the International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation, the governing body for the sport, was looking to grow with more women’s sports teams.
“I also learned that Nigeria, the country, had never had any Winter Olympians … And then to cap it off, I learned that the continent of Africa had never been represented, man or woman, by any bobsled team. So I was like, ‘Okay, this is obviously something that is gonna hang over my head if I don’t step in and try and do something about it.’ “
So, Adigun joined the United States’ bobsled team as a brakemen. In 2016, the former track and field star decided to start the Nigerian team. She teamed up with Onwumere and Omeoga and led the team as driver. The women, all former track and field athletes, said their skills help them in bobsledding.
“The only thing that’s really different in terms of the actual sport in itself is the winter aspect of it and it being so labor intensive,” Onwumere tells PEOPLE. “In track and field, usually we get there, get ready, get mentally ready, get on the track and run.”
The duo turned to crowdsourcing to raise money for their Olympic journey, and were given a huge boost when Visa decided to fund their efforts.
“When we first heard the story of these three remarkable athletes who make up the Nigerian Women’s Bobsled Team, we knew we had to add them to Team Visa. As former track stars, they are redefining history for their country, and we wanted to support them on this journey by providing them with a platform to inspire others and share their story,” said Chris Curtin, chief brand and innovation marketing officer at Visa.
She continues: “Bobsled is very labor intensive. It’s moving the sled, working the sled and making sure the sled is good enough to go down the ice so that’s the biggest difference to me. And understanding the conditioning, weight wise, there’s a big difference as well because you have to be a lot heavier. We’re pretty underweight for the sport, but our speed works in our favor.”
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The women have made headlines in recent weeks as news of their historic journey spread across the internet. However, they say they never imagined themselves being an Olympic bobsled team.
“I didn’t have a clue what bobsled was before the 2014 games,” Adigun says. “Outside of the movie Cool Runnings, that was it!”