People get excited when they see me —Chioma Ajunwa
She says at the name of Chioma Ajunwa, doors open for her, people get excited when they see her, according to her, it is all like a dream. In a chat with Sunday sun recently, she speaks on her life, especially the impact of her Olympic triumph.
“I come from a family of nine, six men and four women. I am the lastborn and the family’s breadwinner. The Olympic gold medal changed my life entirely because anywhere I go, I am given first class treatment and people receive me warmly. Anywhere I go, people point at me and say ‘Hello, ‘that’s Chioma Ajunwa.”
And when they see me they greet me so well, they cherish my person and it makes me humble and I feel very great and honoured. But without sports and the accompanying success, I don’t think I would pass unnoticed any more. People are always excited to see me. Sometimes, I often wonder why people cherish me this much and want to identify with me. I feel so happy that God created me and gave me the strength and talent that elevated me to this point.
“When I came back from Atlanta, I was given N1million. The Sports Committee equally gave me N1million. The Police gave me N1million. The most important thing is that my name open doors for me. People even give me first class treatment. It is a great honour to my family and me and I feel very happy and I appreciate Nigerians for this.
Stardom has, however, come with its own ups and downs, but Chioma said it is a sacrifice one has to make for being a public figure.
“I used to be embarrassed and when you look at it again from another angle, you will realise that they appreciate you.
Even up till now, I avoid the Isale Eko axis. There was a day I went to Balogun market. As we entered a shop and the trader recognized me, the whole ‘area boys’ gathered and surrounded the shop chanting my name asking that I should ‘settle’ them. I was so afraid; I ran inside the man’s shop and was there for hours.
There was another day I went to the market, ‘the area boys’ caught my hand chain, on the premise that I was their Atlanta Heroine and they wanted their share. Out of showing appreciation, some people could do some discomforting things.
Growing up days
I actually come from a very poor background. My mum was the one that raised us because my father died when I was a year old. It wasn’t rosy for my mum bringing up nine children. She was training us from the little resources she had, and that made us not to go to the University. Once anyone of us came out of secondary school, that is the end our education. When I started doing sports, the Police picked me up to join the Force because I was good at it. I bought a ‘Danfo’ bus. When I gave it to drivers, each time they come back, they would be telling me stories, to the extent that I collected it from them and I was driving it myself in the evenings.
I was a Danfo driver in this Lagos. Immediately it was 5pm, I would call any of my colleagues in sports, and we would drive the bus plying the Maryland to Yaba route. That was how I started, though it wasn’t that easy, but I thank God that I was able to get to where I am today. So, when you talk about people that suffered before they made it, I think I am one of them. There was nothing that I did not do to make ends meet except prostitution and stealing. But I was into anything that could bring me money. I was into buying and selling. I would drive to Aba, buy fabrics and bring them here to sell. I would then sell these fabrics to bankers.
Her mum, however, tried to dissuade her from engaging in sports but her resilience saw her through
“I started doing sports when I was small in primary school. I competed in one of the Nigerian primary school sports in those days. Actually then, my parents were not interested in sports, but I had a passion for it irrespective of everything they did to discourage me. They normally lock me inside the house. Sometimes, I would just jump through the window to attend a competition. After a while, they got tired. After this, I left the village for Lagos where I joined the Police.
It was when I came to Lagos that I had the opportunity to showcase my talents. It was when I was in Police College that I was invited for the first time into the national camp. In 1999 I was invited to the camp and for the All African Games championship held in Lagos. I won the first gold for Nigeria in the long jump, since then I have been growing in leaps and bounds in my career, which culminated in my winning gold at the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996. So sports has been in my blood though nobody in my family did it but I believe I took it from my mum because when my mum was alive you want to work with her, you really got to get ready to run, I believe that I took it from her.
Tips for upcoming athletes
“Sport is all about morals, there are things athletes have to sacrifice. Sometimes, you see our girls, they want to do sports but they don’t want to have muscles, if you don’t build yourself up very well you cannot run very well. They have to be dedicated, loyal respectful so that their coaches will respect them. Most importantly, they must be focused. They must be determined what you want to achieve, weather you want to represent Nigeria in All African Games or you want to go up to the Olympics level. If you go out there and you are not disciplined, definitely the coaches can mess you up. If you go out there and you don’t train well, the coaches will not like you.
Meeting my husband
“I met my Husband in Japan when we went for one of the indoor meets. Anywhere we went, the Nigerian community in Japan would come out to cheer us. And that day, they were giving us a reception. I exchanged numbers with some of the athletes but incidentally; it was one person that kept on sending me Christian text messages, prayers, quotations in the Bible. So, that really attracted me. I thought, ‘who really is this person pestering me?’ I collected a lot of numbers, so I couldn’t really figure out the particular person sending texts to me. He kept at it and at a time, he started calling me. We would talk on phone. So one day, he asked me if I was married, I grew angry and asked why he was asking.
He is a Pastor with the Chapel of Destiny Restoration Church. My husband is God-sent. He is everything I need in a man. Somebody that has respect for a woman very caring and understanding. I thank God because if he were a jealous lover, there would have been trouble.