Aminat Adeniyi grew through the ranks in wrestling having started as a junior but she has since fought her way to the top in Africa, Commonwealth and now aims to be one of the stars at Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Japan.
But the journey to the top did not come on a platter of gold for the 27-year-old political science graduate. “I was playing handball before I was introduced to wrestling,” she began in a lively conversation.
“I noticed that handball is a team sport and it will be difficult to make it as an individual but I found wrestling to be a sport where I can be myself and be independent.
“When I started wrestling, people used to discourage me, especially my mother who usually said ‘you are a woman’ . I don’t expect you to do that kind of sport meant for boys.
“My other family members were not in support of me going into the sport except my father that encouraged me.
“He couldn’t do sports because his own parents discouraged him and maybe I will be the one to take it up. He convinced my mum not to worry and that was how my mum started allowing me as I spent most of my time with her.
“My first competition was the Abuja 2004 National Sports Festival. Though I joined wrestling two months earlier, I won all my trials in Ondo State before going for the festival and I finished fourth.
“It was a great experience for me and that was where my coach started encouraging me. My first medal was at the 2006 National Open Championship in Ebonyi State.”
Undaunted by initial discouragement, Adeniyi was determined to make a name for herself in the sport.
“What motivates me is that people only reckon with winners because when you don’t win you are on your own. I realized since that, it’s never a big deal for me anymore because sometimes you win; sometimes you lose as that is part of life.
“Motivation also comes from my coach. As a lady, sometimes we may be down but it is our coaches that encourage us not to give up.
“Also knowing full well that I’m not born with a silver spoon. I want to do this sport to a certain level and reach a certain height that we will help open doors.
“You need to do the sport to a certain level and if you maintain it, it will be so hard to be down again. This is because that name will keep opening doors and bringing opportunities. You have to endure and do it to that level. The endurance and training coupled with hard work can only be seen when you win. When you put all you have into competing and you win. What keeps me going is that I want my name to be written with a golden pen by doing what somebody has never done before,” she added.
Despite neck-deep into wrestling, Adeniyi still took solace in education, admitting that marrying sports with education was not easy.
“It was not easy at all combining sports with education. When I look back and see myself as I graduate, I always wonder how I was able to achieve it.
“The year I got my admission was the year I became the national champion at the 2009 National Sports Festival. The sports festival was held while the registration was going on but I told myself I needed to go in order to secure my job with Ondo State.
“So I went for the competition before coming back in time to complete my school registration. Thank God, I took the decision because it was there that I became the national champion.
“While studying, most of the time, our tests or exams do clash with competitions. But what helped me was that I went to my Head of Department (HOD) and Dean of Faculty to explain to them that I am a sports person.
““I have to thank coach Purity Akuh for pushing me this far. Sometimes when I feel like not going for lectures, he was always there to encourage me.
“I was shuttling school and training. I’ll be in school on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and then go back to Akure on the evening of that Wednesday and train on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. It is not that I didn’t have lectures on those days I go for training, but I have some brilliant friends who are always keeping me abreast of things on campus.
“I could recall missing one exam in my 200 level when I went to the 2011 National Sports Festival in Port Harcourt. I finished my fight very late in the day and I had an exam at 1 pm the following day. So I left Port Harcourt early the next day which was the day of the paper to Akungba in Ondo State. As I was getting to the corridor of my class, I saw my classmates coming out of the hall after finishing the exam. That was the only course I missed throughout my time at the school. I knew I had to read and I must read. So anytime I was in school, I jotted and read a lot. I thank God I graduated with my mates without having an extra year,” she explained.
On her decision to study political science, Adeniyi said: “Actually I wanted to be a lawyer and wanted to study law. But my elder brother convinced me that there are lots of charge and bail lawyers out there that do not even have an office. He said there are so many of them on the streets looking for jobs and I should look for something else to do. Or do I want to graduate and be roaming the street too? At the same time, I really like politics. He then advised me to go for political science.
“So I felt that political science is similar to law and that I can easily switch back if I want to go for my masters in law. It is also the type of degree that will be easy for me considering my involvement in sports.
“If not for wrestling, maybe I would have been a lawyer. I quickly switched from law to political science after I was convinced that I may not be able to cope with sporting activities and law.
Adeniyi’s physical attribute as a wrestler most times intimidates some male admirers, she admitted: “A lot has happened over the years and I have met several guys like that, maybe we met on neutral ground, party or when I travel.
“Most times they don’t know my identity and we might have been having a good conversation but within me, I know that this will soon cut off immediately when he finds out who I am.
“This makes me know how weak some men can be. Those are the men I don’t want to be with. You cannot judge me with my career, it’s my profession and because I am a wrestler, am I still going to be a wrestler at home?
“As wrestlers, when we get home, we are just too lazy. We are as gentle as you could think of. But when we are on the mat, it’s a different ball game. This is my job and I put all my efforts into doing what I needed to do. When I’m back home, I’m another person entirely.
“When a guy asks me ‘what is your profession, where are you working?’ I replied by saying ‘I work at the Sports Council’. The next question will be ‘are you a footballer?’ They’ll start asking all sorts of questions. I always believe the person that will ask that kind of question will run. So I already know that this one will run but he wanted to know the exact sport.
“Sometimes, it’s like fun to me and I just take it that way. Naturally, I like a sports person. Not necessary that you compete or you take it as a profession, I just want my guy to have a little knowledge of sports.
“Maybe you do exercise or a lover of football or be involved in sporting activities while in school. Some guys don’t take it as a profession but they know everything about sports and they easily understand you as a sports woman. These kinds of people will understand you,” she said.
Meanwhile, Adeniyi went philosophical after picking her ticket to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the 2021 African & Oceania Wrestling Olympic Qualification Tournament in Tunisia at the weekend.
She crooned: “My story in summary: I started this game, not with full certainty that I was going to stay this long (parents/family preferred studying as a female child). So every setback always gives me a reason to back out, because I encountered more than enough! “It’s like a normal routine”, But I have this one angel in human form (my coach) who keeps saying “just a little bit more is all I asked you.
“Through thick and thin I endured, I never knew God was awaiting me at the finishing line….
I got admitted to Brock University, Canada on sept 2020 for my Master’s Degree in sports management (scholarship) I became one of the BROCK BADGERS!
“A few days ago, I got my Olympic ticket to appear and compete in Tokyo!All through, God used the works of my hands,
God is the greatest, indeed!
“Folks, whatever challenges we are facing in our daily endeavours they are solid setbacks, programmed to distract us, but then if we can just listen to that tiny little voice of our angel (in human voice or our own inner man’s voice) and hold on with prayer and all diligence in our work to the last, our joy would be full las las….!”
Despite winning several laurels in wrestling, Adeniyi is not fulfilled. “No, I can’t say I am fulfilled and I’m not yet fulfilled; I’m looking forward to the Olympics; to have medals at the Olympics. That is the highest feat in sports and when you have medals from there, you are almost fulfilled.”
After quitting wrestling, she hopes to further her education but she lamented the lack of recognition to athletes from other sports unlike football.
“In the past this used to make us worry but we are now used to it. Sometimes you ask yourself what is the essence of doing this sport when you are not even recognised. Sometimes you will be even broke. But like my coach used to say “this thing you are not doing it not for anybody, you are doing it for yourself, your unborn children and you are doing it for your generation, you are doing it to make your husband and family proud. Not just locally but internationally where you will be highly recognized. Nigerian can only recognize you when you win. So hustle well, train well so that you win and they can recognize you.” Those words used to sink into our memories and that is the truth. When you win, people will know you, they will come and give you money as at that time.
“Some sports men and women have the notion that ‘I’m doing this for myself, I’m doing this to get a way out of this country.’ You will understand it better when you see one athlete that they just manage to take out of the country, the athlete will not come back with the rest again. This is because coming back, maybe they will never have such opportunity again or that sport will never travel again.
“So sometimes they train like there is no tomorrow just for them to go to one major competition and they never come back. That is the option the country is giving to sportsmen and women.”
On the pressure of settling down for marriage, she said: “There was pressure for me to get married three to four years ago. But now I’m courting someone now and the pressure has reduced. The only question now is ‘when are you people going to do the introduction?’ But my guy knows the kind of person I am and he is an understanding person. If he’s genuinely mine, he’s not going anywhere. He knows I’m not playing games with him and the delay in taking it to the next level is for a purpose.”
Finally on her mission to Tokyo, Adeniyi said matter-of-factly: “My first time at the Olympics was not that good but I’m going to give my 100 percent this second time which I know is going to be the best result for me. Now, we are putting in extra effort.”