Nigeria and African record holder in men’s Shot Put, Chukwuebuka Enekwechi, told CHARLES OGUNDIYA that it was not a difficult decision for him competing for Nigeria despite been born and raised in America. Excerpts…
It was another podium finish for you at your first African Games, how does it feel winning the gold medal in Morocco?
I feel great, I didn’t think I was in the best shape to achieve what I did but if you look at the series, every time I kept on improving on my last throw, so I don’t know where it came from but sometimes it is mental. At times you will be physically ready or at times unprepared, but if your mind can take it, then you will have a performance you could be proud of.
You won the athletics championships in Asaba last year by setting Championship Record of 21.08m, and now the track and field event of the African Games with a new Games record of 21.48m. Should Nigerians expect similar performance at the World Championships and the Olympic Games?
I can’t predict something like that but definitely I am working towards doing well at the World Championships, and also at the Olympics.
It has been a tough year for you taking part in several competitions, how have you been able to keep yourself fit all these while?
I don’t know really, but I pray a lot and like you said, this is the ninth month of competitiveness, it’s been pretty difficult, but somehow I have not had any major injury and so I am happy. I do a lot of things day to day, I make sure I eat well, a lot of strength, speed and I do a lot of technical work, I try to give myself the best opportunity to do well in each competition and still come out better in the next.
You were not happy despite setting a festival record at the 2018 National Sports Festival in Abuja last year, what really happened?
The long story short, the competition started without me knowing I took a taxi and rushed to the competition arena for my first throw in round one and there wasn’t a schedule printed out for the tournament which shouldn’t have been the case.
So how did you achieve your target despite the obstacles?
For the festival I didn’t achieve my goal. I wanted to throw well over 21m in December to set me up well for the larger meets like the Diamond League in the New Year, but at the end of the day it didn’t help me well as far as my rankings for the year.
What has 2019 given you as an athlete?
I will say it has been quite an experience, I know how to travel better and compete better even when I am not in great shape like I threw 21.8 two weeks ago and I was not picking, but I don’t crucify myself. So far in 2019, I have had about 15 competitions, and with each one I learn something new, there was a time when I had problems throwing 21m but I knew what to do once I went back home and back to training. I changed my diet, changed my lifting and it has been a learning experience for me all the way.
How easy or difficult has it been competing for Nigeria?
There are many challenges that people have never seen before, that Nigerian athletes will face regularly, but at the end of the day, there is a kind of family aspect to it that I love, there is kind of camaraderie about being part of Team Nigeria, I have seen some good days and some bad, but I am still here doing well for the country.
Was it a case of trying hard to convince you to compete for Nigeria?
I have always wanted to compete for Nigeria, the reason I wanted to do that was not far-fetched. Been born and raised in America, I still wanted to have that link with Nigeria my country, and I feel that the best way to do that would be doing something for the country in terms of athletics, something I am good at. So as to bridge that gap of been born in America, I always wanted to be a Nigerian athlete. I actually wanted to represent Nigeria at the World University Games in 2015, but I had a serious back and groin injury that ended my season early, then my next opportunity was the Olympics in 2016, I didn’t qualify and the next year was 2017, I have been trying since 2015 but it finally worked out in 2017.
Are you fulfilled competing for Nigeria?
It has been quite a success but I have not done it alone and I’d love to say thanks for the opportunities. Yes I will say there have been some successes, there have been mishaps, but we have to focus on the positives.
How did you come into athletics?
I wanted to do a sport in High School, so when in my last three years, I decided I wanted to do individual sport; wrestling or track and field but the track and field coach found me first, he gave me the medical form and I filled it, gave it a trial and since then I loved it.
You said wrestling or track and field, have you been involved in wrestling before?
No, but I was going to try then.
What interests you in wrestling?
I just loved how the great athletes in the sport were well rounded. I love the head tail of the sports, been alone in the ring by yourself, it is kind of the same thing with throws, you are all alone in the ring by yourself and the results depend on you alone, your passion and also it is a points system, I just fell in love with the sport, but fortunately, I found myself in track and field.
What has been the support from your parents?
They have been really supportive, although now that I am 26 and i don’t really rely on them for finances and stuff like that, they speaks to me regularly, give me encouragement. When I was in Gold Coast for the Commonwealth Games, there were 12 to 14 hours’ time difference, my mother was the first one to text me after I won the silver medal, so despite being in New York, she was watching and following my progress. Also before I joined track and field, they were not fans of the sports, but it has been a massive support from them.
Did they in anyways raise objections when you decided to compete for Nigeria?
They backed me and supported my decision. I explained it to them and it wasn’t even too much of a discussion; it was just that they wanted to be sure I knew what I was doing and they were very supportive of that decision.
Do you always look forward to competing for Nigeria?
It is always a big reunion whenever we have a competition anywhere in the world. That’s what I always look forward to, not just because there is going to be monetary rewards or getting a standard, I always look forward to seeing my friends again. It is a good experience for me.
Do you relate with the foreign-based athletes more than those back at home?
We have similar struggles, similar desires and goals, we are all here for the same reason, so I don’t think there is a big gap at all between the foreign-based and home-based. Maybe there might be a difference of expression, because we grew up in different environments, but we are all focussing on one goal, we all practice all together and sports is one thing that unites us all.
Apart from been part of the country’s track and field, do you engage yourself in other activities like taking Nigerian cuisine and other things like that?
The region I am in, the Midwest, there is not a very big Nigerian presence, so it’s kind of difficult finding Nigerian cuisine, but I do partake in Nigerian music and if i get the Nigerian food i grew up with I eat. My parents raised me that way. Foods like garri, egusi soup, moin moin, which is one of my favourites; those are the foods I grew up with.
How has the struggle been since you stopped depending on your parents?
I wouldn’t call myself wealthy perse, but I have been able to make an honest living through track and field, I am earning my living now and I hope it continues like this. It is a job for me at this point and I know I am doing a good job.
Are you planning to come back and set up something to give back to the country, especially the younger ones still trying to make it in the country?
I am already thinking about that but not at the moment because I am still kind of building. This is just my third year as a professional, I have not really put too much thought into it but it is something I would love to do in the future, grassroots, get the kids involved and probably some funding if I could be in a position to do that.
What is your advice for the athletes back home in Nigeria?
The word speaks for itself, there is nothing special about those in America, people have been painting pictures that America is a place flowing with milk and honey, but nothing much like that. The talents are abound in Nigeria and if you look at someone like Divine Oduduru, he was a great athlete before coming to America, they just polished what was already golden and he started exploding like a mega star. If it works for him, it can also work for others. The way I look at it, Nigeria is full of talents, it’s just for those talents to discover themselves, make themselves available for the coaches, get that exposure and they can be great. I think it is possible for them to excel back at home in Nigeria.
What do you think of your co athlete, Mike Edward, going to the Big Brother Nigeria House?
I was very happy for Mike when I heard about it, I actually sent him a text when I heard about the BBN thing, I think it is a big exposure for him. He is planning for 2020 season and doing Big Brother is a big thing for himself, the sport, and for entertainment as well. It is now known that athletes can be public figures apart from someone that just runs, jumps or throws. I love what he has achieved in the house so far.
Do you think other athletes can try their hands on maybe going into music, movies and so on, and personally will you try that?
I do think about it at times and if anybody is reading or listening to this interview, you can scout me, recruit me for a Nollywood movie, I can act some movies. People are more entertaining than they think; all you need is an opportunity. I think I like the fact that Mike is taking advantage of that opportunity and I’d love more athletes to do that.
How do you manage women?
For me it is very easy and that’s why I have some success in track and field. I am very goal oriented, I don’t get distracted easily by anything, drugs, alcohol, wild girls, I just remain focused and that has been helpful going forward.