Speaking the Nations Mind

How Precious Orji Turn Talent Into Paralympic Gold For Nigeria

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By Debola Adebanjo

It was love at first lift for Josephine Precious Orji, the Nigerian para powerlifting star who is now an Olympic champion and world record holder.

Orji’s life changed dramatically for a second time in 2001 when she visited a gym in her hometown, Owerri, in Imo State, to try out powerlifting for the first time in her life.

Just two hours later she surprised herself by declaring: “I want to reach the peak of this sport.”

It as a defining moment for the 41-year-old, who has lost the use of her legs following a bout of polio as a child.

Determination, natural talent, a lot of hard work and some support from state and national governments has saw her reach that peak at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio.

Since then she has had her second child and suffered several setbacks but is determined to reach the heights again in a sport that she is as passionate about today as she was in 2001.

“I lifted 70kg on the first day, it was very simple and normal to me,” she told BBC Sport Africa.

“The coach said he had never seen anyone lift that even 50kg on their first attempt.”

Para powerlifting for disabled athletes sees competitors lie on their backs to push the weights above themselves.

“Coach Lucky Ibe told me, I would be a champion, and that I’d get on a plane, travel the world to international competitions,” Orji continued.

“I couldn’t sleep I was carrying those weights in my dream that night, so I went back home and quit my job and I started training.”

The then 22-year-old was so determined to make a success of her new-found passion that she walked away from her job the very next day.

She had been working as a computer expert in a busy cyber-cafe, a job she says she was good at, enjoyed and a popular member of the team.

It was the beginning of career that would see her achieve the heights she was so determined to reach but also leave her with those low moments that all athletes endure.

Her highlight so far was winning gold in her category at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio with a world record lift, that has not been bettered since.

“I felt like walking that day, leaving that wheelchair to walk with my legs,” she remembers.

“People from other countries were jubilating, holding me, asking me to take pictures with them, asking for my shirt, and to sign autographs on their face or anywhere.

“I remembered all these popular musicians – I felt like them, that night I could not sleep.”

Orji’s category in Rio was one of the final events in Rio and her gold was Team Nigeria’s eighth of the Games and sixth in para-powerlifting to match the six they won in the sport four years earlier.

Culled from BBC Sport

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