Odunayo Folasade Adekuoroye, MON, is the number one female freestyle wrestler in the world in her weight category, this year.
She hails from Okitipupa Local Government of Ondo State. For the past nine years, she has defeated all opponents in Nigeria in whichever weight category she competed in.
Having dominated in Nigeria, she has won medals in Africa competitions and global wrestling competitions, including Commonwealth Gold medal in 2014 and the latest was in the World Wrestling Championship in France in August, where she barely missed out on the gold medal and had to settle for silver.
The major disappointment in the career of the 23-year-old, was missing out on medals at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
In this interview in her family home in Akure, this pride of Nigeria and of Ondo State, went down memory lane on her illustrious career as a wrestler, lessons learnt along the way and the huge disappointment she feels about the lukewarm disposition of government towards supporting sportsmen and women.She spoke with KAYODE CROWN.
Tell us your educational background
I attended Ijapo Primary School, Akure and Adegbola Memorial Grammar School, Akure and presently I am a undergraduate student of Federal University of Technology, Akure, the Sports Science Department.
When did you start your career as a wrestler?
Why did you choose to be a wrestler, or was there any other interest you had in Sports?
I was into athletics. There was a competition we ought to go for but I was cheated out of my position.
But my coach now, Akuh Purity said if I listen to him and endure, he will take me to the same competition. So I decided to go with what he said.
How has the journey been?
It has been rough and in terms of finances it was very rough.
The last competition you were involved in was in August where you won silver. How was the experience?
It’s a very good experience and I believe if we can go to competitions like that, we are capable of winning even at the Olympics. The problem we had was lack of funds. Even when we wanted to go for the World Championship in August, we went to the Ministry of Sports, but they said there is no money.
Letters were written, they said there is no money. But thank God for His servant, Pastor Daniel Olukoya, the General Overseer of Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries (MFM), that helped me, paid for my ticket, everything.
I really appreciate him, and I want to say thank you to the Governor of Bayelsa State, Henry Dickson, he was really supportive towards the previous competition in Morocco where the African Championship took place.
Because if one did not go to the African Championship, one can’t attend the World Championship. It is the best in Africa that can attend the Championship.
The Bayelsa State Governor sponsored me to that African Championship. I also give thanks to God and my father in the Lord, Dr Olukoya, who sponsored me to this world championship, I wouldn’t have been there otherwise. And I dedicate my medal to God.
With what you are saying now, it seems obvious that there is a funding challenge generally in sports in Nigeria. Why do you think this is so?
Not sports generally. For example, football attracts a lot of attention. I believe it is individual sports that have that kind of issue.
And we win more medals than football. They only fight for one medal. Whereas in wrestling we now have 30categories. So we have 30 gold medals up for grabs.
I believe if they can encourage us like the footballers, we will do great things for the country.
There is youth restiveness, youths who do not have anything to do, joining bad crowd, how do you think proper attention to sports can help them?
For example, in the US, I believe many of the youths there are into sports. There they have incentives. They give sportsmen and women scholarship when going to school.
There is a lot of encouragement. I have a lot of friends there.
One of my friends from India asked me after the World Championship in August, where I won silver, how much I would be given.
I could not even utter a statement. When he won a bronze medal at the Olympics, he was given a huge amount of money.
Commonwealth gold medalists are millionaires. I did not even know what to say to him. I just laughed.
Why do you think the Ministry of Sports have been sleeping till now?
I don’t know. I was really disappointed. I don’t even know what to say, because the Minister of Youths and Sports could not even send a congratulatory text, and every time he is asked a question, he would say: Our sport is really going higher.
And for an athlete to do a great job, not even a message to say congratulations, and they congratulated the female Basketball team, who won gold in their African championship.
But in a similar championship that we went to in May, and we won nine gold medals, they did not congratulate us.
The Ministry of Youth and Sports, I believe they are still planning. When they are ready they will congratulate me.
When it comes to sports sponsorship, how do you think the private sector can come in, since the government seems to not be forthcoming?
That is the best. For example, I don’t believe you need to give an athlete millions of naira for sponsorship; with just N100,000 you can be of help to an athlete.
I appreciate the Union Bank for supporting us in the 2016 Olympics. They gave the whole Nigerian contingent money and other things.
I believe if that money had come earlier, we would have used it to train, attend many competitions before that game.
In wrestling, we didn’t really attend any competition before that Olympics. And for you to win, in a championship like that, you need to have been in about 50 to 70 bouts in the year before the big competition like World Championship or Olympics, before you can win.
We need to attend at least four competitions before the big tournament. Nigerians depend on their strength and sometimes it does not really work because what you don’t prepare for, sometimes, God won’t give you.
Like this world championship, if not for my father in the Lord and the Governor of Bayelsa State, I won’t have been there.
What do you have to say about sports development at the grassroots?
Most of the young ones are willing but when they look at people at the top, they are discouraged. But my coach is really making a lot of efforts. Sometimes he pays the school fees of the young ones just to assist them. Now we have like forty young wrestlers.
Are you talking about Ondo State?
Yes, I am talking about Ondo State. You know that the top athletes are supposed to boost the morale of the upcoming ones. But when they look at people like me struggling to go to competitions, it is really discouraging.
If government should put more money in Sport, it would really help us, and crime will really reduce.
Most of our athletes now are just looking for small small jobs to feed themselves. It’s not really encouraging.
My coach pays the school fees of almost 20 people just to keep them on the team.
What kind of encouragement do you think can be given to such coaches?
My coach is a good Christian and everytime he talks about his promises to God, that he has promised God that he would help people.
He believes that is the way he can help, that is why he is going all out and it’s not that he has much, so if private individuals can offer assistance.
And as at today, Ondo State is the foremost state in wrestling in the whole of Nigeria. All the able sport that went to the World Championship this year, the only medal for Nigeria came from Ondo State. And I believe that in Ondo State we have talents. We need to be encouraged.
What does your average day look like?
I train a lot. Now my coach has just changed my training programme. We have to train for 12 hours now, and part of the remaining 12 hours, I need to rest, which is also part of the training.
I have to spend six hours on the mat, three hours for strength training and some hours watching wrestling videos.
I don’t have time for myself. All that I have time for is wrestling.
I believe when it is time for me to leave wrestling, I will have time then.
What medals have you won?
I am nine times national championship, from 2009 till date. I am the most outstanding wrestler since five years ago; I am two times Junior African Champion, three times Senior African champion; Commonwealth games gold medallist in 2014, World Games Bronze medalist in 2015; golden Grand Prix gold medal 2016; Two times Indian Pro Wrestling League Champion; world silver medalist, 2017 and I was ranked number one in the world this year.
How were you able to maintain your top form over the years?
I just believe it’s God and kudos to my coach too because my coach does not even have leisure time.
After training, he goes on the internet looking for something different. He does maybe 70percent of the work, I put in 30percent because he will train with me, go on internet to search, trying to correct the mistake of my last competition.
What we are doing now is correcting the mistake of the August competition. My parents too are very supportive with prayers and financial support. I believe if they did not release me, I won’t be where I am today, so they have supported me very well.
What height do you see for yourself in this sport?
The greatest height I want in my career is to win in the 2020 Olympics. After that I will retire.
Are you sure because people say things like that and afterwards change their mind?
Why I am so confident is that I thought if I could win in the 2016 Olympic Games, I would retire. But when it did not go the way I thought, my coach told me that I just need to serve for another four years like Jacob did.
He said that Jacob served for seven years to have Rachel but he was given Rachel’s elder sister and he needed to serve another seven years to get Rachel.
He knows I really wanted to win at the Olympics, so he said I need to go for another four years.
Just because of those words, I said yes I need to serve for another four years for my dream to come true. I believe after that, there would be nothing more.
You have travelled round the world. What have you learned, and what path could you have chosen if not Sports?
I have learnt many things. Sport gives you discipline. I believe my own sport drew me closer to God. Sport has given me fame, name and money.
If I did not go into sport, I would have finished my school, be looking for jobs, but I believe Sport has given me all I need, most especially drawing me closer to God.
How come sport drew you closer to God?
My dad is a pastor, and when you go outside too you learn more. My coach is a very good Christian, and he believes everything is possible with God.
So most of the time, even when I am going to wrestle he will still tell me something about God. At home, I am told about God, and even outside the home.
What’s your advice for upcoming athletes?
They should be disciplined, because if you are not disciplined you cannot achieve much in sport. Also, they should be happy with what they are doing.
Obedience is important. When your coach tells you don’t do this, and you disobey, it’s very bad. He knows more than you do.
The coach is someone like Joshua leading you to your Promised Land. You have to at all times be obedient to your coach.
I believe that if you obey your coach and you are disciplined and very focused, you are good to go. And believe that through God, there is nothing impossible.
Your nick name is the dancing wrestler. How did that come about it?
In the 2014 Commonwealth Games I was the least expected to win gold. Three days to my competition I had a dream, I saw Pastor Olukoya in that dream. But I was crying. I saw him in a big house full of light. He said I should stop crying. But I continued crying.
So he used the white cloth he was putting on to clean my tears. When I woke up I was very happy and I was just singing.
And in that dream, he told me it is settled. I heard a voice that I just need to praise God that it is settled and my coach asked me to read a passage where I saw that King Jehoshaphat appointed singers.
When I won gold in that competition, I was surprised I won and I don’t know how to appreciate God, I started dancing. Since then, that has been my inspiration.