'In life, as in the skeleton, you have to take the hits'

She is Simidele Adeagbo, Africa’s first ever female Olympic skeleton athlete.

The last few months have been a “whirlwind” for the 36-year-old Nigerian, but her place at PyeongChang 2018 is the product of a “lifelong dream.”

“I thought I would be a summer Olympian but a second chance came about through the sport of skeleton,” Adeagbo tells CNN.

“I’m so glad it did because it’s taught me a lot. I can make history for my country doing this.”

Born in Canada, Adeagbo spent her formative years in Nigeria with her parents before moving to the US aged six.

It was there she became a four-time NCAA All American and triple-jump record holder for the University of Kentucky.

Her goal was initially to make the US Track and Field team — an ambition she trained for since high school.

But Adeagbo came just inches short in trials for the Beijing 2008 Olympics, despite securing a personal best of 13.99 meters.

That distance, recorded just weeks before the action commenced, was considerably further than any American leapt at the Games that year.

It was scant consolation. Forced to watch on at home, Adeagbo hung up her spikes and drew a line in the sand.

It was time to lead a normal life and leave that Olympic dream behind. Or so she thought.

A full decade later, in the icy cold of PyeongChang, Adeagbo will once again run for 30m before launching herself into the air.

This time she will do so onto a brakeless 62-pound stainless steel sled with all of Nigeria behind her.

Transferable skills

Everything changed in 2016 when Adeagbo, then a Nike employee living in Johannesburg, heard about the exploits of the Nigerian bobsled team.

The story of three women and their “audacious” goal to become Africa’s first ever entrants in the sport captivated the retired track and field athlete.

Presuming bobsled to be a four-person sport — which left one spot open — Adeagbo got in contact with the team through social media.

What she didn’t know was women’s bobsled is a two-person sport, meaning they already had their team, plus an alternate.

However, through her correspondence she learned the Nigerian Bobsled and Skeleton Federation were holding general tryouts in Texas.

Adeagbo flew from Johannesburg to Houston full of hope and took to her new sport immediately.

Without a hint of ice in sight, she underwent a series of tests, including 45m sprints and standing long jumps.

“You need to be strong, powerful and fast,” Adeagbo explains.

“I already had those tools from over 10 years of track and field background, and I was able to transfer those skills into a new sport, skeleton.

“I think that’s really fast-tracked my learning. Each day, I’ve committed myself to learning the sport, and here I am.”

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Now, having qualified as Africa’s sole female representative in the skeleton, Adeagbo and the Nigerian bobsled team will compete in Pyeongchang.

“It’s so awesome as female athletes to be breaking this barrier in sport. It’s amazing.

“My teammates and I have worked really hard and we’re very proud of our accomplishment.”

Naturally, there have been “bumps and bruises along the way,” not least in the Canadian city of Calgary where she “repeatedly hit” the kreisel, a 270-degree circular turn on the track.

“I’ve learned that in life, as in skeleton, you have to take the hits and keep pushing,” says Adeagbo. “Because on the other side of that is victory.”

At January’s North American Cup — staged in Lake Placid, New York — Adeagbo secured consecutive top-three finishes, edging out competitors from Canada and the US.

If she were to replicate the feat in February, she would become the first African to make a Winter Olympic podium in the history of the Games.

Whatever the result in snowy Pyeongchang, Adeagbo is conscious she has the chance to leave a lasting footprint.

“We hope we can inspire future generations of athletes through this accomplishment,” she says, adding her presence is going to cause “pandemonium” back home.

“Maybe, through what we’re doing, there is somebody in Nigeria right now who never considered a winter sport as an option that’s changing their mind.”

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