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Amaka Onusiriuka: My daughter is potential Olympics gold medallist in gymnastics

Mrs Amaka Onusiriuka-Agbodike, mother of one of Nigeria’s youngest and most promising gymnasts, Stephanie Onusiriuka, has said her daughter needs the support of public spirited…

Mrs Amaka Onusiriuka-Agbodike, mother of one of Nigeria’s youngest and most promising gymnasts, Stephanie Onusiriuka, has said her daughter needs the support of public spirited Nigerians to become the first to win an Olympics gold medal in gymnastics for the country. In this interview with Trust Sports, Amaka spoke on her 12-year-old daughter’s early years in gymnastics, the numerous medals and awards she has won so far and how Nigerians can support her dream of becoming an Olympics champion.


When exactly did you discover that your daughter is gifted in gymnastics?

Actually, she started on her own when she was like two years old. However, we didn’t understand what she was doing. Most times, she was seen putting her head under her legs. We never knew much about the sport so we didn’t know what she was doing. Then I used to stop her. I would ask if she wanted to injure herself. Sometimes, she would turn upside down and begin to walk using her hands. When it persisted, we began to ask questions. It was at that time that we were made to understand that Stephanie was only displaying traits of a talented gymnast. At that stage, I started by getting Youtube videos for her to be watching at home. And when she was seven years old, we took her to a professional coach at the MKO Abiola National stadium in Abuja for further training.

How many competitions has she attended and what has been her performance?

Interestingly, a year after she was enlisted into the gymnastics club, she went for a championship in South Africa in 2019 and won a gold medal. So, she actually started her professional career when she was eight years old. When she returned from South Africa, her next tournament was the National Youth Games in Ilorin where she was the cynosure of all eyes. She won a bronze medal at the games. And at the delayed 2020 National Sports Festival in Benin City where she represented state of origin Anambra State, Stephanie won one gold, two silver and a bronze medal and was voted second best all-round gymnast. In August 2022, she returned to South Africa where she won gold medal at the African Gymnastics Club Members competition in Pretoria and was voted best all-round gymnast at the well attended event. So, it has been eventful and fulfilling for daughter and mother but we are not resting on our oars.

Considering that there are hazards in the sport, why didn’t you discourage her from pursuing a career in gymnastics?

As you are aware, everything in life is a risk. It all depends on how you handle it. She has had knee injuries several times but we thank God that none was career threatening. We were able to manage such situations. Moreover, she is still a child so no matter the injury, it heals faster than the time it would have taken, if she were an adult. The most important thing is that she has not sustained any serious injury and by the special grace of God, she won’t experience such.

Is she still as passionate about the sport as when she started?

Yes, she is very much interested. Her interest has not dropped. At the moment, we don’t have enough equipment at home and in Nigeria entirely, so we are planning for her to go to a gymnastics school abroad. We want her to combine her education with gymnastics. One thing I know for sure is that, no matter where she is and how long she stays, she will continue to fly Nigeria’s flag at competitions. She will never dump Nigeria.

In view of her talent, what is your daughter’s ultimate ambition?

Our target no doubt is for her to represent Nigeria at the Olympics. Since the inception of the games, only one Nigerian male gymnast has represented the country at the world’s biggest games. So, we want Stephanie to be the first female gymnast to represent Nigeria at the games. Therefore, we are hoping that she will continue to excel and eventually represent Nigeria at the Olympics. She is immensely talented and we believe with hard work and the grace of God, she will make it.

Is she likely to feature at the next Olympics Games in Paris in 2024?

She is only 12 years old so because of her age, she may not be eligible to compete at the next Olympics. However, the present Minister of Sports has said even if he is no longer in office, he will talk to his successor to ensure Stephanie goes to Paris to observe the Games. We are grateful because it will give her the much needed exposure.

She was once hosted by the Minister of Sports. Is she still enjoying the support of the Federal Ministry of Youths and Sports Development?

The Minister of Sports, Sunday Dare, has been so supportive. He has been in total support of whatever Stephanie is doing. He is in the picture of everything that we are doing to develop her talent. As a matter of fact, the Minister supported her last trip to South Africa with some funds. Apart from the Minister, the Chairman of Air Peace, Allen Onyema, is another person who has been supportive. In fact, he has awarded her free flights to the airline’s destinations for her training and competitions.

Do you have any special appeal to Nigerians in terms of more support for your daughter?

The family is appealing to Nigerians to support our daughter’s dream to represent the country at the Olympics. She is yet to get corporate sponsorship so it’s not easy at all but I believe philanthropic Nigerians won’t allow her dream to die. She has the potential to be an Olympics champion.

As members of the popular Dunamis Church, how much support is she getting from there?

I am happy to say that our Pastor, Paul Enenche, does not joke with anything that has to do with Stephanie. Anytime she has a competition at the MKO Abiola national Stadium in Abuja, he goes there personally to support her. And more importantly, he always renders spiritual support.

How financially rewarding is your daughter’s participation in sport?

It is financially rewarding because most of her medals have come with monetary rewards. When she won medals for Anambra State at the National Sports Festival in Edo State, the then Governor, Sir Willie Obiano rewarded her with some cash. She was not the only one who got the reward. All athletes who won medals for the state were rewarded. But most of what she earns goes into her equipment and training.

As an African and National champion, how popular is Stephanie and how do you share in her popularity?

Her popularity is growing by the day. I can recall an incident that happened when we went to a supermarket to buy some items. Someone recognised her and said ‘Waoo, this is Stephanie, our National Champion’. And the man instantly offered to pay for her. He said ‘her bills on me.’ So, a lot of people recognise her when we go out. And as her mother, I usually feel so proud.

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