Okparaebo inspires girl-child with free training, equipment
But for providence, Ezinne Okparaebo would have been a Nigerian sprinter, dominating the tracks in major international competitions for Africa’s most populous country.
The lady, who has been among the world’s best sprinters for over 15 years, is seen as a trailblazer for her adopted country, Norway, for which she has won many international laurels.
Born in Nigeria, Okparaebo was just a year old when she relocated to Norway, where her talents, even at that tender age, was discovered by talent hunters in the Scandinavian country.
And since then, she has grown to become one of the most known faces in Norwegian sports history.
Speaking to The Guardian on her odyssey in the sports world during a short visit to the country, Okparaebo narrated how she moved from being a child prodigy to one of the world’s best at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
She said, “my talent was first discovered at a school athletics day a year after I arrived Norway.
“We had different events such as sprint, long jump and high jump. I was the fastest girl, and the guys were afraid to run against me, so, I ended up running by myself, but with the best times of all children.
“The teachers encouraged me after that to take up athletics.”
Okparaebo’s reputation as a schoolgirl champion attracted her to the elite of Norwegian sports. She was barely 17-years old when she was thrown into the international arena by a country that had so much faith in her talents.
Although she was conscious of her Nigerian roots, Okparaebo said she did not think twice about representing Norway internationally, because the Nordic country’s best hands prepared her for many years and “so it was natural for me to represent Norway.”
On the challenges she faced in the country as a black woman, Okparaebo said she never thought of the negative comments and Internets trolls on her origin, adding, “in recent years, when I am running, it is mostly for the joy of it… to give God glory with my talent and to inspire other people. I don’t attach my accomplishments to any country or to anyone.”
While advising upcoming talents to make the best of their talents, Okparaebo said in athletics nothing is guaranteed.
“You can be great today and be loved by everyone and the next day you are out in the cold. It is like you are working hard your whole life for a run of a couple of seconds and sometimes you might not get rewarded for it.
“So, one has to take nothing for granted because nothing is guaranteed in athletics,” she said.
Just before the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil, Okparaebo’s video where she scaled an entire set of stadium bleachers in only five leaps, went viral, showing how athletic and hard-working she is.
To many Nigerian athletics watchers, such feats would have been a great motivation to the country’s athletes if she were wearing the green while green rather than Norwegian colours.
She said it would have been an honour to run for Nigeria, adding, however, that nobody has contacted her to represent the country of her birth.
“It would have been a great honour to represent Nigeria at some point, but the IAAF has made it very hard to switch allegiance. Now, the athlete has to wait at least two years to compete for another country in an international championships.”
She picks the London 2012 as her bets years a sprinter, because it was “when I became the 10th fastest woman in the world, and best European at the Olympic Games.”
Okparaebo’s goal for the 2020 Olympic Games is to enjoy the process “towards my fourth Olympic games.
Make the best out of my training, to improve everyday, and reach the potential that I feel inside me and haven’t shown yet. If I manage to do all that, the result will surely come.”
Okparaebo has no regrets on the paths she has chosen in her life, because she believes that every obstacle she has encountered in life has made her a more resilient, stronger and wiser person.
If she was not into sports, Okparaebo said she would probably be a social entrepreneur, adding, “it is what I am doing parallel to being an elite athlete.”
She revealed that she runs an organisation in Norway, Ezinne Athletics, “in which we believe that every girl in society, regardless of her ethnic background, should get equal chance in sports to have fun, develop her talents and enjoy being in an inclusive community.
“We believe that youth sports is the best tool for girls to develop self-motivation, resiliency and strong appreciation for their own health and well- being.
“To help young girls become the future ethical leaders and positive contributors for our society, we offer training and equipment for them free of charge twice a week.”