A love built on dominance of Nigerian roads
History is filled with stories of extraordinary sports couples that ruled the world in their different events, creating astonishing records along the way.
Love and sports sometimes combine to give the world fantastic stories that garnish international championships.
The world has been served stories of the accomplishments of Sydney Leroux and Dom Dwyer, Brianne Theisen-Eaton And Ashton Eaton, Kerri Walsh-Jennings and Casey Jennings, Mia Hamm And Nomar Garciaparra, Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi, as well as, Marion Jones and Obadele Thompson.
There is also the Kersees, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Bob Kersee, who won three Olympic gold medals in the heptathlon and the long jump.
Sports Illustrated named Jackie Joyner-Kersee the Greatest Female Athlete of the 20th Century, while her husband, Kersee was best known not only for his role in coaching elite track and field athletes, but also as a California State finalist in the hurdles.
In Nigeria, hammer thrower, Adewale Olukoju and his wife, Fatimah Yusuf, are still reverred for their exploits at the World Championships, Olympic Games and other international competitions, where they left their footprints on the sands of time.
However, no couple has dominated any event in recent times as much as the Gyangs, Emmanuel and Deborah, who have won all the major road races in the West African sub-region, including the now rested Obudu Mountain Race, Okpekpe Road Race and the Access Bank Lagos Marathon.
The young and slim marathon runners from the Berom ethnic group of Jos South Local Council of Plateau State were made for the long, hard surfaces, where they earn their living with their long strides.
The couple, joined together in 2019, has won every laurel available in the West African circuit that they have become the reference point for home-based marathoners across the region.
Now, they say their ambition is to challenge the dominance of Ethiopian and Kenyan runners in the Nigerian space, adding that all they need is the encouragement and sponsorship to participate in international competitions.
Emmanuel Gyang, who was born on September 13, 1993 in Jos South at the Vom Christian Hospital, told The Guardian on Thursday that he started running while in secondary school in Vom and embraced marathon as a profession when he gained admission to the prestigious College of Education in Gindiri, where he studied Physical and Health Education.
Narrating his odyssey in road racing, the staff of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), who is working in the Plateau State Command, said: “I began my athletic career in 2002 in Jos with my late Coach, Mang Dakara, who started grooming me in 2002.
“I went to primary school games, secondary school games and from there I got an opportunity to work with Plateau State Sports Council in a short time, before I joined the Civil Defence.
“So, it is from the sports council that I met with Coach Stephen Nuru, the present national coach in long distance running.
“When Coach Mang Dakara died in 2007, I joined Coach Nuru’s stables. I became the national champion in 5,000 metres, 10,000 metres, half marathon national record holder and the champion of full marathon of 42 Kilometres under Coach Nuru.”
Gyang revealed that running has become a part of him such that he now sees it as a form of recreation, which also helps to pay his bills.
“I started it as pleasure, but Coach Mang Dakara made me realize that I could make a living from it if I took the profession serious.
“When he took me to the Sports Council, I realised that running was something I could do to make money and also bring honours to my state and country.”
Gyang points to Ethiopia’s Gabr Selassie as his role model, saying the former 5000 metres and 10,000 metres world champion, who was the first person to run under 59 minutes, gave him the inspiration to aspire to be among the best.
“Gabr Selassie had all that was required to be a champion…guile, determination, hard work, perseverance and above all, the never-say-die attitude. He never gives up no matter how difficult the challenges are.
“It is the same attitude that I have adopted. The challenges are there. Sometimes when you work hard or you had a target in a competition, injury might try to hamper you. Sometimes, when you have trained and are all set for a competition, the government would not release the funds, because they have no money. You would be forced to skip the competition.”
Gyang revealed that he has learnt to take things in his strides, adding, “I do those I can and leave the impossible ones.
“When I am injured, I still don’t relax. The best remedy I have discovered is to look for means to get well soon. It doesn’t pay to lie on one’s back waiting for a miracle.”
With all that he has won in Nigeria and the West African sub-region, Gyang is not yet satisfied. He wants to rank among the best road runners in the world.
“A full marathon is 42 kilometers and I am working hard to achieve the goal. I am putting my best to the training. I train seven days in a week, everyday. In a week I run 190 kilometres.
“Currently, I train myself. The national coach is here. He supervises me in essence. I train in Vom, Jos South.”
His wife, Deborah Pam, who has been the dominant female marathoner in Nigeria for over a decade, says her liaison with her husband has added a new impetus into her quest for excellence at every competition.
She said she met her husband in 2006 as they were training during school games (they attended the same secondary school), adding that even at the early stage of her career she had been training with boys to push herself to the limit.
“My husband has been a big influence in my career. He saw the potential athlete in me and told his coach, Mang that the way I was going, I would become a champion if given the opportunity. They encouraged me to work hard on my speed and technique and from there running the marathon became part of my life.”
She revealed that her husband’s attention and interest in her career convinced her that he was the right person for her, adding, “when I started doing all that he was directing me to do and the right results started coming, I began to feel that my husband knew me very well and could predict what I would do to be successful. This has been my experience,” Deborah said.
Mrs. Gyang added that she has never regretted her union with Emmanuel since they got married last year (2019), adding that she was looking forward to better days together.
At the seventh Okpekpe International Road Race in Edo State, Gyang, as has become his style, beat all the Nigerian runners to win the prize for first local finisher in the competition.
He told The Guardian that Okpekpe was their first competition after cementing their relationship last year.
“Because of the wedding and the other stress, I thought I would not be able to make it.
“Winning in Okpekpe was the perfect wedding gift, because it was our first championship as a married couple and signified the beginning of more blessings to come.”
When other couples spend their honeymoon in areas far removed from their usual crowd, Gyang revealed that they spent theirs on the practice track.
“After the wedding stress, I made sure our honeymoon was just for us to train, so I told my wife, baby don’t sleep, we have to train, we need to look for food for our children before they come. We began to work hard ahead of the Okpekpe Race.”
The couple has 11 Okpekpe Race titles between them, with Mrs. Gyang accounting for seven.
Gyang, who has taken the dual role of husband and coach, explained their daily routine: “When we were just dating and it was time for training, I would tell her, let’s leave the love for now and make the sacrifice we have to, so we could be champions when we are done.
“Now, after every training or competition, I help her to recover, prepare for our food.
“She usually cooperates with me, sometimes we train twice in the morning, at 4.00 a.m. we are on the treadmill before we hit the road. She endures, because she knows it is part of the efforts at perfection. The love and respect she has for me is great and I am also motivated to train more because of her.”
Aside the efforts of her husband, Mrs. Gyang picks hard work, discipline and dedication as the keys to their success.
She stated: “I have been training even harder than before I now leave with my coach. He knows how to handle me very well and I know I will even get better.”
On plans to start raising babies, Gyang says: “When the baby comes, she would take a break and in due course, I will help her back to continue what she loves doing.”
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