Egbunike: I take the lord with me wherever I go
Many may have forgotten Nigeria’s former spinster an Olympic Games bronze medalist, Innocent Egbunike, who is now in the United States of America (USA) with his family celebrating God’s glory, as a staunch believer of Jesus Christ in far away country. Raised in an educational-inclined and Christian religion pious family from Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria, Egbunike studied at the Azusa Pacific University, where he still holds the school record at 400 metres and the automatically timed NAIA meet record at 200 metres. Egbunike represented Nigeria at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, USA in 400 metres and 4×400 metres relay races where he won a bronze medal apart from other laurels he won in Nigeria, Africa and world athletics championships in the 1980s. He also represented Nigeria the second time at the Seoul Olympic Games in 1988. In this interview with CHRIS IREKAMBA, Egbunike, who is a college Associate Professor and a coach talks about his salvation experience, his dedication to Jesus Christ shortly after the 1984 Olympic Games in the US, his experiences as Nigeria’s decorated sprinter, the role his parents and grandmother played in shaping his life, and what he is doing after retirement, among others, issues.
Not many people are unaware that the legend, Innocent Egbunike has surrendered his life to Jesus Christ. How did it happen and when?
After I sneaked out of my parent’s home to be a part of the Nigerian Olympics team in 1984 I came back, and my mom had spoken to my grand mom who told her to pray with me and allow me to use my talent for the glory of God considering my grandma’s named me God’s living example. My mom prayed with me, and I dedicated my life to Jesus. I rededicated my life to Jesus in 1984 here in the United States of America (USA).
What kind of lifestyle were you living before you accepted Jesus as your Lord and personal Saviour?
My lifestyle before my relationship with Jesus Christ wasn’t that crazy since I was raised with morals and an understanding of Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour, my Jehovah Nissi. Though I did go to home parties while growing up at Government Reserved Area (GRA), Enugu, it wasn’t anything crazy. When I was applying for colleges in the US, my parents insisted that I should go to a Christian school here in the US and I came to APU, which kept me grounded because my coach held me
How would you describe the joy of your salvation when you gave your life to Jesus Christ because there is always a joy that comes with it?
I was blessed and filled with glorious joy when I rededicated my life in 1984 after the 1984 Olympics, and the Lord used my experience after the 400-metre finals to make me the Christian I am today. I thank Him every day for His grace and love for me, my family, my loved ones and my friends.
What other Christian activities have you engaged in since you became a believer including where you worship?
I spend a lot of time in prayer. I worship at a local church here in the US. At times, I preach and lead Bible hours, that is Bible study. I take the Lord with me wherever I go.
What is the vision behind your regular evangelistic/motivational posts online and is Innocent Egbunike preparing to be pastor a church someday?
I am a true believer that we should minister wherever God places me to be. My goal in life is to serve the Lord no matter wherever I am. As Christ’s followers, we ought to be like Jesus and do what Jesus did.
What really are the factors sustaining your growth in the faith since you became a believer?
My faith in God, seeing God answers my prayers and sustains me and my loved ones. God is real, and without Him, we are nothing. That is why my purpose is to love my fellow human beings, serve God, and serve my fellow human beings.
As a believer, who are your mentors or role models in the faith?
I look up to Jesus and do my best to anchor my life in Him every day.
He is my Jehovah Shammah.
Nigerians would like to know about your lovely family?
I am blessed with a wonderful family. We all love to give our best to Jehovah Jireh. I have been asked this question often: do your children run track?
And the answer is no. The most important thing for us is their relationship with Jesus Christ and their education. With my Jehovah Rohi, I am blessed because He supplies all my needs!
What have you been doing since your retirement as an Olympics Games bronze medalist, Nigerian and African champion in track and field?
I have been spending time with my loved ones as well as working a gig as a college Associate Professor and a coach.
Remind Nigerians how your journey into the world of sports began, particularly as a world class sprinter and champion?
I grew up in a very educational-inclined family. My mom was a teacher while my dad was a high-ranked police officer. Their thing was education. They preached education to us, and paid for us to attend extra murals, because of that, sports were not encouraged in my folks’ household. As a scholar at St. Michael Primary School, Enugu, I played soccer. I was a goalie. I also tried long jumping. I sneaked out of my parents’ house here and then to play soccer for my school and was disciplined basically got spanked a lot. After primary school, my parents decided to send me to Nike Grammar School, Enugu, Nigeria. That was where I was really introduced to sports. Our principal Mr. C.O.C Chiedozie was a sports fanatic. He loved sports and made sure every student at the school participated in some sporting activities or the other. I will say that was where the good Lord gave me the opportunity to use my God-given talent and that’s to the credits of Mr. Chiedozie, our games masters and my fellow students. I started with soccer and was
very good at it, but since I did not have much fun because it was a team sport and I had to rely on my teammates, I decided to track.
Basically, my teammates made fun of me for out-running the ball. I became a goalie and was blessed to make it at the state level as a player and a goalie, but because of an incident with the team, and the teacher/game master advised me to get involved in athletics, I decided to do track athletics (track and field). I truly thank God for my principal, Mr. Chiedozie. I made the Nigerian Olympics team as a senior in high school, and the rest became history.
What were your fond memories like as a Nigerian sprinter, including the championships and laurels you won for yourself and for Nigeria?
Some of the fond memories were having the opportunity to represent Nigeria with my God-given talent, first winning the 100m at the USSR Spartakiad in 1983, winning the World University Games in the 200m in 1983 and the 400m in 1985. I learned from finishing last place in the 1984 Olympic Games and coming back and anchored the 4 x 400 metre relay to a bronze medal at the same 1984 Olympic Games, winning the African Games 400m with an African record, and winning the 4 x 400m and the then Kenyan president on his closing remark at the stadium, declared that I should be called Innocent of Africa. Setting the Commonwealth and African record at the 1987 Zurich meet, winning a silver medal in the 87 World Championships, and finishing 5th at the 88 Seoul Olympic Games.
Can you still remember some of your contemporaries both in Nigeria and world athletics?
I was blessed to train and compete with some of Nigeria’s track and field and some of the world’s best. I was coached at the national camp by Mr. Lee Evans, the then World Record Holder, along with Mr. John Carlos and Coach Ron Davis. Tommy Smith was my mentor when I was coaching at Mt. SAC. Coach Terry Franson was my coach at Azusa Pacific University. I trained and competed with such greats as Chidi Imoh (he literally ran me out of 100m), Sunday Uti; I was teammates with Yussuf Ali, Henry Amike, Alhaji Ahmed Adio, Mr. J.J. Kio, and the list goes on.
I trained and competed with Amadu Diaba, Derick Redmond, Gabrial Tiacoh and the list goes on. My school was a training hub for some of the greats of my time. I went to school with Christian Okoye, and Dave Johnson, 1992 Olympics bronze medalist in Decathlon. Good friends with lots of the athletes of our time.
Any regret for competing for Nigeria?
I thank God for the opportunity to compete for Nigeria. I cannot live in regrets. It is like driving and steering in your rear view mirror.
The only thing that baffled me was not having accommodation when I arrived at the African Games in Kenya, considering that the Federation made all my flight arrangements but then dropped the bomb on me by not having a room for me when I got there. At the end of the day, I slept on the floor in Patrick Nwankwo and I.K. Mbaduga’s room throughout the
duration of the games.
What is your view of athleticism in Nigeria today compared to your days, and the horrible state of health of some of your contemporaries like your fellow Olympian to the USA 84 Olympics, Jerry Okorodudu, who passed on recently?
Nigeria has a sea of talents. If you sit back and think about it, most black athletes around the world are Nigerian descents, but yet we are not dominating sports in the world in figures. I am blessed to see better representation with today’s greats like Tobi Amusan, Ese Brume, Rosemary Chukwuma, Favour Ofili, Godson Oghenebrume, Flavor Ashe and Emmanuel Bamidele, just to mention a few. It saddened me to hear about Jerry’s passing. May his soul rest in peace. We, as a nation should take care of our past greats and heroes, celebrate them, and set up some kind of funding for their retirement and health insurance. Most of these athletes gave their all to our great nation.
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