Lagos, Nigeria – On a warm September morning in Lagos, as more than 30 Nigerian athletes prepared to take part in the country’s maiden bobsled and skeleton tryouts, Seun Adigun was there to encourage them.
“Just be an athlete,” she told them, reassuringly.
Adigun, born in Chicago to Nigerian parents, is the first African to have competed in both the Winter and Summer Olympic Games.
She represented Nigeria on both occasions, in 2012 in London for the women’s 100-metre hurdles and in 2018 in PyeongChang as part of the women’s bobsled team.
“It is heart first, passion, dedication and athleticism,” Adigun, 32, told Al Jazeera.
“Athleticism [will] come, that can be trained.
“But you can’t coach someone to have passion, you can’t coach them to be dedicated, you can’t coach them to have heart and you can’t coach them to move with integrity or commitment and those are the things we are looking for.”
Footballers, sprinters and basketball players all came to try out for the frozen-track sports at the National Stadium in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial centre.
The aim of the talent-scouting event, which was called The Fastest Pusher, was to recruit more athletes for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing and in turn, popularise the sports in Nigeria.
Nigeria 2022 Winter Olympics
Akwasi Frimpong, a Netherlands-based Ghanaian pacesetter in skeleton, came to help out in the Lagos tryout session [Tolu Olasoji /Al Jazeera]
In a few months, the most successful athletes could be training in rather unfamiliar climates.
Participant Nafeesat Aliu, a runner and hurdler, admitted to having no experience in either bobsled or skeleton but said she was inspired by Adigun’s pep talk.
She emerged as the “fastest pusher”, leaving the stadium with gifts from the sponsors and a chance at a bobsled career.
“I have this mindset that if I train, possibly within months I will get better and then be at the medal table,” she said.
“[Adigun] summoned the courage to start participating in bobsled and it’s a big win for her, every girl would want to be like her.”
Adigun’s story has inspired many in Nigeria.
Despite having suffered from tachycardia and other medical conditions as a teenager, she excelled in track and field and later was a central founding member of the three-member Nigerian women bobsled team – in 2016, the same year the team came into being, she started a successful crowdfunding campaign to source the $75,000 needed for an Olympic bid.
Before the 2018 games, Adigun was in Texas and studying to be a chiropractor and completing a master’s degree in fitness and human performance.