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I Can Do All Things

Odunayo Adekuoroye - Wrestler, African Champion

A reporter once asked me if I ever get fearful before competing at big tournaments, and I simply responded, "No. I don't." I guess my answer might have thrown him off. Perhaps he was looking for something more elaborate, so I tried to explain the reason behind the answer.

I'm not one to cower in the face of competition. Now don't get me wrong, I get anxious. And I think being anxious could be a good thing. If you don't get anxious, you probably don't care enough about what you do. So now and then, I get anxious. But being afraid..., no. I don't have that luxury. When I think back at my journey and all the things I had to overcome to get here, there's no place for fear. The fact that I'm here, today, standing in front of you, I've beaten the odds. I've already won.

As a child, I woke up every day to the reality that we were poor and that today wouldn't be any different from the day before. I grew up hawking on the streets to earn additional income for my mother. We had no dreams of attending university, becoming doctors, or flying planes. Those thoughts were distant. If you had food in your belly, a school to attend, and clothes to wear, that was called a "good situation" where I come from, and that's all I knew. But I also knew that if I were to change my life, I would have to leave Akure, and sports seemed to be the only ticket out.

Back in school, I began by running track. It was the more popular sport back then. If you were not playing football, you were running track, and vice-versa. That's how it was. I represented my school occasionally, and on this fateful day, I came in second in the 100m competition. I remember it as clear as day because the prize for coming first and second positions was an all-expense-paid trip to attend an out-of-state competition.

This was my chance to get out, I thought. It was my opportunity to leave Akure for the first time, and I could not be happier. Unfortunately for me, someone else was picked in my place. Till today I'm not sure why and how that happened. All I remember was I cried like a baby. I felt cheated because I risked a lot to get here.

For months, I had been sneaking out of my house to practice and attend track and field events, and my parents had no clue I was doing sports. So this betrayal hurt me to my bones.

But as God will have it, while I was there crying, an older gentleman walked up to me to ask me what the matter was. He introduced himself as Coach Purity Akuh. He was a local wrestling coach looking to fill his roster with potential wrestlers. He asked me if I would be interested in trying out for wrestling, and I told him my goal was to get out of Akure. He said he could work something out, but it would require that I take wrestling seriously - and maybe someday, I might even be able to wrestle overseas.

That's all I needed to hear.

So when I match out in a couple of days, be rest assured that I wouldn't be afraid. I've grappled with life too many times to be scared of anyone standing across from me. I know I was meant to do this. And God has put everything that I need around me to be successful.

By the next day, I was practising with other wrestlers in Coach Akuh's camp. I was anxious and eager to learn. I wanted to soak in everything in one day. I felt like the faster I learned, the quicker it would be for me to get out of town. But I was wrong. The more I understood the fundamentals of wrestling, the more I fell in love with the sport, and a shift began to happen. I started to see wrestling differently. It wasn't all about aggression. You also needed to learn patience, control and deception. I started picking up life skills, discipline, and mastering the idea of teamwork. The more I learned, the more I realized it was no longer about me getting out of town. At last, I found something I was good at - something of value and something I could be proud of.

The initial high that came with learning this new sport was short-lived. My parents finally found out that I was wrestling, and all hell broke loose. I hadn't slept at home for three days because I had attended an out-of-state competition, and my coach had no idea that I hadn't informed my parents about attending the tournament. How could I? I already pre-empted how they would react to the idea of their daughter wrestling, and I couldn't dare tell them. They would have to find out by themselves. That was the risk I was willing to take.

My parents visited the police station to file a missing person report. By the time I showed up, it was over. My father was livid to the point of disowning me. He sent me packing and threatened to send my mom out with me. He was furious. "How could I sneak out for days", he said, "and not think to let him know?" My saving grace was the prize money that I received at the competition. I think that helped to calm things down.

They realized that I wasn't just doing this for fun. My mother could see that it meant a lot to me, and there was a good chance that I could also make an income from it. Coach Akuh promised my parents to keep me in school while I wrestled. And he has paid my school fees ever since.

Today, wrestling has taken me to over a dozen cities worldwide. I've represented my country, carried its flag, and made my family proud every time I stepped out on the mat. I've not only competed against the best. I've competed and triumphed. I've won everything I can possibly win, except for an Olympic medal. And that's my new goal.

So when I match out in a couple of days, be rest assured that I wouldn't be afraid. I've grappled with life too many times to be scared of anyone standing across from me. I know I was meant to do this. And God has put everything that I need around me to be successful.

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