Do not fear the unknown: Winter Olympics are great lesson in resilience | From the Press Box with Melanie Whelan

COOL FACT: Nigerian boblsedders Ngozi Onwumere, Akuoma Omeoga and Seun Adigun had to convince a nation foreign to snow that they wanted to hit the ice in PyeongChange. Picture: AP.
COOL FACT: Nigerian boblsedders Ngozi Onwumere, Akuoma Omeoga and Seun Adigun had to convince a nation foreign to snow that they wanted to hit the ice in PyeongChange. Picture: AP.

NIGERIAN Olympic sprinter Seun Adigun says there is something empowering in getting people to embrace a seemingly foreign idea and really run with it.

In a world where there is such a chorus for Australian children needing and wanting to be taught resilience in schools, now is the time to take a cool, hard look at amazing athletes with careers built on resilience.

It is time to get a downright frosty lesson.

The Nigerian women’s bobsled team will be the first from the African continent to hurtle downhill on ice in what is essentially a tin can in the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics this fortnight.

You might say the whole unlikely athletes from a different culture and climate thing in a bobsled has been done before. Jamaica’s story was immortalised in film but the Nigerian women are forging their own story, rather than a mere sequel.

Video: BBC News (April 1, 2017)

They want to inspire women and girls, and Nigerians, on what can be possible; to not fear the unknown and to move beyond limitations.

Adigun, the sled’s driver, told BBC News there are three things to be a successful bobsled driver: fearlessness, live on the edge; determination, no room for any lapse in concentration; and discipline, to do your best for all who have put faith in you.

Teaming with professional Nigerian sprinters – all who live in Houston, Texas, from Nigerian families – have had to lobby and fundraise to represent a nation, and a continent, where it is unheard to be flying downhill of speeds topping 140km/h. 

They refused to give up on their goal.

In our backyard, Olympian Jana Pittman voiced her outrage a fortnight ago at Sliding Sports Australia’s knock-back of a developing Australian women’s bobsled team to compete in PyeongChang.

Pittman, a former women’s 400-metre champion, made the switch to ice to suit-up in the women’s bobsled four years ago in Sochi.

Now retired, she convinced three young female athletes to leave athletics and rugby for bobsled with a strong focus on the 2022 Winter Games.

The self-funded and nominated trio was resolute to continue. The next chapter will be most telling.

Pittman feared the federation’s decision could have far-reaching consequences on a sport that needs coverage to survive.

"We need track-and field athletes on the brink of Olympic level but don't quite make it to transfer sports,” Pittman told Fairfax Media. “They do that when they see the Australian bobsled team competing at the Olympics.”

COOL CHAMPION: Olympic aerial skiier Jacqui Cooper gives a rev-up speech to Ballarat High School's spit crew ahead of the 2016 Head of the Lake. Picture: Lachlan Bence

COOL CHAMPION: Olympic aerial skiier Jacqui Cooper gives a rev-up speech to Ballarat High School's spit crew ahead of the 2016 Head of the Lake. Picture: Lachlan Bence

Anyone who has heard five-time world champion aerial skiier Jacqui Cooper speak in Ballarat about her journey, from a trampoline in a Melbourne backyard, should know exactly what resilience is about.

Cooper is open about the brutal injuries she has sustained – including a shattered knee the week before the 1992 Salt Lake City Games – and what it took to pull off unlikely comebacks.

You want a lesson in resilience? Get on the couch and get out of your comfort zone. Tune in and take a good look at icy sports that may seem outrageously foreign.

These sports are not for the faint-hearted.