Edo-born Para Weightlifter, Uhunoma who is representing Nigeria at the ongoing Para-Powerlifting World Cup in Abuja has given an insight into how he lost the use of his legs due to wrong medical prescription and how he was discovered and introduced to the game of para-powerlifting. In this interview with Trust Sports, he also shared his dreams and how he wants to be remembered when he eventually retires from the sport.
When did you start competing in pare-powerlifting and when was your first tournament as a powerlifter?
I started this sport in December 12, 2011 and my first tournament was Eko Festival in 2012. It was the National Sports Festival hosted by Lagos State. By the grace of God, I won a bronze medal.
How was the feeling when you made your debut in Para-powerlifting?
The weight they used to win gold is a baby weight to me. I used the weight to play in the gym, so by the grace of God, I was taught a lesson to go home, buckle my belt tight. So ever since then, I have been going to local tournaments where I did well. I have been to invitational championships where I also did well. In this tournament, I want to win gold and want to break an African record.
On a personal note, can you share how you became physically challenged? Was it from birth or it happened as you grew up?
Well, according to my parents, I became disabled due to the doctor’s wrong prescription. I was given the wrong injections when I was sick. I was about 1 year old. The doctor didn’t check me properly and I was given a series of injections. My mother raised the alarm seeing the doctors just giving me injections even while I was sleeping and she stopped them from giving me more. Meanwhile, the ones they had given me had gathered in my hand and when they pressed it, the amount of pus that came out was unimaginable.
Considering societal discrimination against people with physical challenges, how were you able to overcome such setback?
At first, it was painful but over the years, I had to train myself to get over that nonsense. In this country, one needs to train himself to know how to tolerate things if not, one will die quick. They look at disabled people with disdain while they are forgetting that disability is inevitable. It can happen to anybody. Besides that, I don’t see myself as a disabled person. I depend only God, not on anybody. If what I set my mind to do fails, then it’s fine. It’s a shame how we are treated but I think that ill conception is changing towards us. We are gradually being treated with respect and certain places have put in place some measures to cater to the needs of people with disability.
While growing up with disability, how supportive was your family?
Well, I come from a polygamous family and you know what that means. Coming from such background is tough except someone really cares for you. So my parents supported me about 60%. Everybody had one or two excuses. I didn’t even tell anybody I was coming to Abuja because of the way they are to me. I lost my dad two days to my birthday in 2009. My dad was there for me.
What is your level of education?
I am an O’ level certificate holder and I am trying to further my education. The game is taking my time and resources but in due course, I will return to school and get a university degree.
Tell me, how did you get into powerlifting? Was it because you have challenges or it was pure coincidence or it was pure love for the game?
I got into powerlifting because I love to carry weight. Initially, I was laid back because of lack of finance but my story changed when a basketball coach, Mr Philip saw me and said I have the body as I was wasting my talents. I was confused as to what he was saying then.
He said I have the body to carry weight which I responded saying that I had the spirit but there was no one to guide me. So we booked an appointment the following week. He came to pick me up at my house and we went to the stadium.
He wanted to introduce me to shot put also. He took me round the stadium while encouraging me all the way not to feel bad because of my condition. To be honest, I was a bit ashamed because of my disability. But I worked myself up.
Another coach saw me and told Mr Philip he won’t let me go who in return requested for money to release me. That was the beginning of my participation in powerlifting.
You have represented the country in local and international competitions, how supportive has the government been to you and others.
In fairness, they are trying their best when you look at the myriads of problems the government is battling with. Even though we know they can do better, we are still grateful that we are gradually being recognized as individuals with huge talents. We even perform better than able-bodied athletes as we always bring home medals, lots of them when we go for competitions.
Initially, we were neglected even when we perform well but Nigerians spoke for us, came to our rescue on different occasions to ensure that we are taken care off. All in all, it’s been fair but it can always be better.
How do you see yourself in the nearest future as a powerlifter?
I see myself succeeding so well in this sport. For some people, the sky is their limit but mine is the starting point. I see myself at the top in the world stage. I am motivated to break records and my name will be known worldwide. I have watched several YouTube videos of champions, learning from them how they made it to the top. God had been really grateful to me and every tournament I go for, I deliver. So in this World Cup, I want to make the podium finish so I can be on the plane to Tokyo for the Para Olympics Games.