Nigerian bobsledders balance their heritages

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PyeongChang, South Korea — Growing up in St. Paul, Minnesota, Akuoma Omeoga was raised on Nigerian food, language and culture. Next week, the 25-year-old will represent her parents’ homeland in the Winter Games, hurtling down the bobsled track with her tresses — dyed green as a tribute to the country — flapping beneath her helmet like a flag.

“One of the biggest things my parents did was speak the language at home,” Omeoga recalled in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday. “It’s super familiar to me, even though it’s not something that I speak fluently … I can also relate.”

Omeoga and fellow brakeman Ngozi Owumere, along with driver Seun Adigun, are all American-born, first-generation Nigerian immigrants who will represent the African nation in its Winter Olympics debut. The country is one of eight African nations competing in South Korea as part of the largest contingent of African athletes ever at a Winter Games.

For Adigun, her roots are as important as her birthplace, which is what pushed her to create Nigeria’s first-ever bobsled team. To be a first-generation Nigerian is to have the patriotism of your homeland “almost pounded into you” by parents who don’t want you to forget where you come from, explains Adigun, who also competed as a track athlete for Nigeria in the 2012 London Games.

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