Nigeria’s Seun Adigun made history at PyeongChang 2018 when she became the first-ever African athlete to compete at both the Summer and Winter Games. Remarkably, she achieved the unprecedented milestone while studying for her Doctorate of Chiropractic in the United States.
When I ran at the Olympic Games London 2012 [in the women’s 100m hurdles] I had no idea that I’d be competing in the bobsleigh at a Winter Games six years later. I had decided my athletics career was over after London but ultimately I couldn’t resist the challenge of trying to create a legacy for Nigeria in winter sports.
London 2012 was an amazing experience because I had family in the city and I’d spent three summers there in the past while competing on the European circuit, so I felt at home. I’d been in the best shape of my life earlier in the year but I had a stress fracture in my left tibula going into the Games and it meant I had to train smart rather than hard. I faded in my heat and missed out on qualification by 0.05 seconds. It was heart-breaking, because I’d made the final of the 60m hurdles at the World Indoor Championships three months earlier.
Although I never officially announced it, I decided to quit athletics after 2012. At first I was happy in retirement, but I got the itch to return to sport after watching some old friends from track and field competing at the Winter Games in Sochi in 2014. I just couldn’t get the idea of trying winter sports out of my head. I sought out the US bobsleigh programme and started to train as a brakewoman.
I was born in the US but my family is Nigerian, and from the moment I became involved in bobsleigh, I started thinking about the possibility of representing Nigeria at a Winter Games. One day I was having breakfast with a former president of the Nigerian Athletics Commission who told me the country was eager to encourage winter athletes and this was ultimately how I came to co-found the Bobsled & Skeleton Federation of Nigeria and then compete in PyeongChang.
Trying to balance the demands of studying for my doctorate, training for PyeongChang and setting up the Bobsled & Skeleton Federation of Nigeria was almost impossible. To take on all three tasks at the same time was probably the best and worst decision I’ve ever made. It was exciting, but I also sometimes felt like I was drowning. Learning a new athletic discipline was challenging enough, but trying to bring a new sport to a country still getting used to the idea of snow was equally daunting.
I successfully completed my doctorate in December 2017 and along with my teammates [Ngozi Onwumere and Akuoma Omeoga] we made it to PyeongChang. The Games were incredible because there was so much love for us from the wider bobsleigh family, and the biggest challenge was to try and contain our excitement because we were there to get a job done. To become the first Nigerian athletes to compete at the Winter Games [alongside skeleton athlete Simidele Adeagbo], as well as being the first-ever African bobsleigh competitors, was a great honour and hopefully inspired other African athletes to begin a similar journey of their own.
I’m working in a directorial role with the Bobsled & Skeleton Federation of Nigeria to make sure the organisation has solid foundations and is able to sustain itself. I don’t want the breakthrough we made in PyeongChang to be wasted. I also hope to build up a private chiropractic practice in the US, as well as a high-performance sports centre focusing on injury prevention, rehabilitation, exercise physiology, and biomechanics. I have a Masters in Science in Exercise & Health Science and want to work with elite athletes.