A Week In The Life” is a weekly Zikoko series that explores the working-class struggles of Nigerians. It captures the very spirit of what it means to hustle in Nigeria and puts you in the shoes of the subject for a week.
The subject of today’s “A Week In The Life” is Enoch Adegoke. He’s a track athlete who represented Nigeria at the Tokyo Olympics. He tells us about the challenges of being an athlete in Nigeria, how Nigerian athletes make money and why he’s trusting God for his future.
I have trouble staying asleep. On some level, my body still thinks I’m in Nigeria even though I’ve been in Tokyo for a week plus. That’s why I’m up by 5:00 a.m. today. A typical day involves waking up at 5 or 6 a.m., doing my morning devotion, having breakfast, then leaving for training at 10 a.m. Training usually ends at 1 or 2 p.m. and I return to the athlete’s hostel to rest.
However, today is different. It’s a struggle to get out of bed. My body just wants to sleep, but I remind myself that I’m not here to play. I push myself up.
In the one week that I’ve spent here, I’ve met athletes from different countries, and one thing that strikes me is that most athletes are supported by either a sports brand or their country.
In the last race I qualified for, I noticed I was the only person on the track without support from Nike, Puma or any other big brand. For me, outside of a little support here and there, I’m mostly on my own in this competition.
In fact, I know say na God hand I dey.
On some level, I know that we’re all equal; at least on paper. That is, we’re all Olympians who qualified for the Olympics final. Now it’s up to each of us to bring out what’s inside us on the track.
Some people will see others with a lot of support and feel bad, but I don’t. I look on the bright side. I’m here at the Olympics, the greatest stage in the world, and if nothing, I’ll market my name and brand. I mean, it’ll be nice for someone to sponsor me so I can focus fully on training and my form, but what can I do?
In between thinking of money and pressure from home because they sent me to school yet I’m running up and down, it’s not been easy. But all glory be to God.
I’m working very hard because, in Nigeria, no one recognizes you until you make it to the top. With that in mind, I stand up, pray to God and commit the rest of my day in his hands. He has brought me this far and he can’t fail me. Not now.
On the bus to training today, I’m thinking about my journey. It’s unbelievable that I once prayed to be here today.
This journey started from my days running for my school team in O.A.U. I’d go from hostel to training to class. Sometimes, training would even take out of class time. I remember running to class after training just to mark attendance or sleep off in the class. On some days, my body would give up and I’d just go to the hostel to sleep.
Occasionally, I’d leave school to try out for the national team or represent Nigeria, and it was on me to make it work. Even when the school gave exeat, I still had to manage my tests and exams — after all, I’m the one who wanted a career beyond university.
I missed a lot of classes and exams then. I had an experience with a lecturer who said even though I was excused from classes, I didn’t make attendance, and there was nothing he could do. I ended up having a carryover that semester.
Looking back, a lot of the reason I scaled through school was because of God’s grace and crash reading. It was so difficult combining training, classes and other activities. I don’t even know how I coped. That I’m here today is not even by my power. There are a lot of people who have invested in my journey. From my family and friends to my coach, to everyone who has wished me well. It’s a double miracle because, for the first time in 25 years, Nigeria is in a track event final. And also, at my first Olympics outing, I qualified for the finals.
I’m hoping that when I run on Thursday I can make everyone proud.
There are two ways to make money as an athlete. You either represent Nigeria in competitions and save all your allowances or you get a side job.
The first option is not sustainable because injuries are a part of an athlete’s life. That’s why sponsorship is supposed to be there to help your finances so you can focus on recovery. But this is Nigeria and nobody is sponsoring track athletes so we’re working round the clock. You’re injured and you’re thinking about where you’ll get money to pay rent or pay for training gear.
If you’re not injured and you don’t qualify to represent Nigeria, you’ll have to find a side job. When you’re supposed to be resting and preparing for a comeback, you’ll have to find physical labour to do. As an athlete, you’re always thinking about money — even when you’re supposed to be resting.
The truth is that combining side hustles with athletics is very hard. It’s a necessary evil though because when you tell people you’re broke and you’re a runner, they immediately tag you as unserious. Only a few people understand the importance of sports in Nigeria.
I remember when I got into debt because of some investments that crashed. Omo, it took grace for me not to break down. At some point, I even started to doubt myself because all I could think of was the money I lost. To worsen things, I had not yet met up to the Olympic standards yet so I had other worries on my mind.
Thankfully, God used the Edo state government and the minister of sport to make things a bit easy for me. However, I’m still not completely clear. I still need some money so I can reinvest back into training. But I can’t be thinking of all that today. I have a big day tomorrow.
My plan today is simple: eat, train, pray and sleep. Tomorrow we make history by the special grace of God.
Omo. Today was devastating for me.
One minute I was in the race, the next, I had pulled my hamstring and that was it. Over. Just like that.
I cried inside. I kept asking why this happened now? At the finals of all places. The medical team examined me and on my way to camp I kept on consoling myself. I didn’t brood for too long because I know God understands better.
I know the best will come out of what has happened. As someone who has a personal fellowship with God, I recognise the importance of putting God in anything I do. After all, it’s still God and my training that brought me this far.
My consolation is that for a minute I gave hope to Nigerians. I felt proud hearing people call my name all over the internet. At least, some people know that there’s one Enoch Adegoke, from O.A.U, that represented Nigeria in the track finals.
It’s not much but it’s comforting. I only pray that this Olympics opens more doors beyond this competition.
“MRI scan, hamstring injury, rehabilitation, physiotherapist” — these are some of the words I’ve been hearing today.
I started rehabilitation with the Nigerian medical team. They’ve been trying their best and that’s comforting. It also helps that the minister of sports promised that the government would take care of our medical bills. I’m trusting God that they’ll fulfil their promise.
It’s still one step at a time to recovery. I’m supposed to eat certain types of food on my recovery journey, but as I don’t have a nutritionist, I’m on my own. I’ll Google what I can and for the rest, I can’t kill myself.
2021 started with me being unsure about everything. But I prayed earnestly and didn’t allow doubt to stop me. All through my training for the Olympics, one thing was always on my mind: I’ll meet up with the standard for the competition.
It’s the same way I’m praying and believing my recovery will be smooth.
The future is bright. If I was able to come this far without a lot of support, I know I can do more with it. I have back to back games from 2022 – 2025 and I’m positive that with the right push I can win medals and attract a lot of goodwill.
I want to change the orientation of sports in Nigeria through my craft. People need to pay attention to other sports outside of football.
If I was in a different country, I know things would be different now. I feel like I’ve gotten marketed during the Olympics but I’m holding my breath for what comes next. I have no answer.
All I can do is trust God that one way or the other, I’ll find favour.
Editor’s note: Enoch represented Nigeria at the track Olympics final, Nigeria’s first in 25 years.