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Benedict Olusola: A jump from Eko High School to Texas Theatre house

Published by Guardian on Fri, 21 Sep 2012

United States (U.S.)-based Benedict Olusola was one of the most gifted high jumpers that rose from the Nigerian school sports system to the national level. The story of his athletics career started at Demonstration Primary School, Surulere, on to Eko Boys High School, Mushin, all in Lagos. He was so good in the jump that his presence always sent jitters down the spine of his opponents throughout his active days as an athlete. He was barely seven years old when he was inspired into sports activities due to the proximity of his house to the National Stadium. Olusola also drew inspiration from his mother, who was a track athlete at school in her youthful days.He was the last man standing for Eko Boys High School in the 1976 edition of the prestigious Graier Cup Championship for track and field, though his effort in the high jump was not enough to fetch the school a medal. Though he had an average sports life in his primary and post-elementary school days, Olusola's athletics career actually blossomed the moment he gained admission into the University of Lagos in the late 1970s. There, he rose to become a national school champion both in the high and triple jumps.He represented Lagos State at the Oluyole '79 National Sports Festival, where he finished fifth in high jump event. Two years later, he became a celebrated hero for Lagos when it hosted the 1981 edition of the fiesta, where he won gold medal and set a new state record in the triple jump. Few months later, he got a silver medal for Nigeria in the triple jump at the West African University Games held in Cote d'Ivoire. He competed against the likes of former Olympian Paul Emordi during the National Open Athletics Championship in Ilorin, Kwara State, in the build-up to the 1986 Commonwealth Games.Speaking with GOWON AKPODONOR from his base in Texas, U.S., during the week, Olusola said that his early days in sports in Nigeria set the stage for bigger challenges in the U.S., where he won numerous titles, including the All-American Masters Track and Field award in triple jump, and gold and silver medals in 2004 in World Medical Games, among others. The cosmetic surgeon also spoke about the latest discovery of using stem cells technology treatment to heal injured athletes and fix various ailments such as arthritis, joint injuries, diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease and stroke.AS a teenager leaving with his parents in the bustling Surelere area of Lagos, Benedict Olusola's desire was to hit the top after deciding to take to athletics in the late 1960s. He eventually realised his dream, setting records as a jumper. He said: 'I have been jumping since the age of seven.'I was actually inspired by the proximity of our house to the National Stadium in Surulere. Then, the country had great athletes like Sam Igun, David Ejoke and Titus Erinle. They inspired me so much into athletics. Also, I drew inspiration from the track record of my mother because she was a very good athlete during her school days.'In those early days, many parents won't allow their children to go into sports because they felt it was an area for dropouts, but my parents, especially my mother, never kicked against my choice of athletics at childhood because she already knew the usefulness of sports and education, having passed through it.'His coming to Eko Boys High School, Mushin, in the early 1970s signalled the birth of athletics in the institution. To the young boy, athletics then was like food and water and one hardly saw the young lad in the streets of Mushin and Surelere without a training shoe. He recalled: I was into high and triple jumps for my school and one of my cotemporaries then was Yusui Ali, who was a sprinter and long jumper.'In 1976, Olusola's skill as a jumper got a big test when he was included in Eko Boys High School's team to the Graier Cup, a competition put together by Lagos State for track and field athletes. He did not disappoint and noted: 'I saw it as a big challenge and opportunity to show myself. I tried all I could but there were so many great jumpers scattered round the city of Lagos at that time.'I couldn't make it to the final, but all those who came to watch, including our games master and principal, were satisfied with my performance. Some of my classmates carried me on their shoulders, dancing round the arena, because the Graier Cup then was a big sports festival and took great talents to compete in it.'Then the school sports competitions were sponsored by both the schools and the government. They were well organised and very competitive. By that time, I always had tough challenges from athletes like Morris Egon, a student of Lagos City College, and one triple jumper called Olu Coker.'There were others like Kasali, a great sprinter from Kings College, Phillips from Baptist Academy and another sprint star, Otenaike, who was in my school (Eko Boys High School). There was also Yusui Ali, who was a sprinter and long jumper. School life at that time was so sweet.'By the time he left Eko Boys, Olusola had perfected his jump skills, which made him the most sought-after student when he gained admission into the University of Lagos in 1978. There, the news of Olusola's talent spread like wild fire and soon he became a regular feature for the school in both high and triple jumps. He later led the school to several athletics competitions.Nevertheless, his days at UNILAG were partly inspired by J.J. Kio and Femi Sobaki, who were students and also national champions. Meanwhile, the ancient city of Ibadan hosted the 1979 edition National Sports Festival tagged, Oluyole '79, and to make appreciable impact at there, Lagos State spread its dragnet to all nooks and crannies of the city, searching for quality athletes. Olusola was one of those invited to camp, and he eventually made the team to Ibadan.He said: 'I could not make an appreciable impact at Oluyole '79 festival. I was fifth in the high jump event, but from that moment, I swore never to record such a disappointing result again. I felt so bad at the end of the festival.'His opportunity came two years later, when the National Sports Festival baton crossed to Lagos. Here, he became the cynosure of all eyes after winning gold medal and setting a new state record in the triple jump.With a feeling of nostalgia, he recalled: 'It was my most memorable game as a school athlete. Setting a new state record in triple jump in front of the home crowd made me an instant hero in Lagos. I was carried shoulder high from the stadium to our house and I felt on top of the world.'His feat at the Lagos State Sports Festival in 1981 propelled the young Olusola to a greater height few months later, when he represented Nigeria at the West African University Games in Cote d'Ivoire and returned with a silver medal in the triple jump. After losing the gold narrowly in 1981, Olusola's expectation was so high while preparing for the 1982 edition of WAUG Games, more so when it would be hosted in Nigeria. But just few weeks to the Games at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, he sustained an injury.'It was the most disappointing moment of my school sports athletics career,' Olusole noted. 'I came fourth in the triple jump event, which I thought I could win easily on Nigerian soil after missing the gold in Cote d'Ivoire a year earlier. But the poor result was due to my injury.'Olusola, who is currently the Managing Director of PA Desoto Company in Texas, was brought up in Lagos, but he never lost torch with his people in Ondo State, his state of origin, in his school days. His father, the late B.O. Olusola, hailed from Ilawe-Ekiti in present-day Ekiti State, while his mother, Elizabeth Tomori (Nee Phillips), was from the famous ITA Balogun family in Lagos State.The two medals he won for Lagos during the 1981 National Sports Festival attracted athletics officials from Ondo State, who quickly lured him to Akure. From there, he became part and parcel of the state's athletics team. In 1985, he represented Ondo State at the All Nigeria Open Track and Field Championship, which took place in Ilorin, Kwara State.The championship was used as trials for athletes to be camped in preparation for Edinburgh '86 Commonwealth Games. He distinguished himself by setting a national triple jump record, though he was beaten to the gold medal. The urge for quality education and better living environment outside the shores of Africa soon set in, and Olusola left for the U.S. soon after his feat in Ilorin.However, as a man with athletics blood flowing in his vein, Olusola still maintained his record of combining academic pursuit with sports. In 1996, he won the All American Masters Track and Field award in triple jump and in 2004, bagged another award at the World Medical Games held in Germany.According to him, he communicates regularly with some Nigerian former athletes like Charlton Ehizuelen and Isiaka Adeyanju on setting up a pilot programme in a university setting to introduce scientific training for athletes, especially those from Nigeria. Such scientific training, he said, would enable the athletes to focus on nutrition, endurance, strength, technique and rehabilitation.According to him, 'it will also deal with the education of athletes and coaches, and the creation of sports library with resourceful materials to learn more about their sports.' Looking back to his school athletics days, Olusola said: 'My early days in sports set a stage for me to move on to do bigger things in the United States.'The fact that I was able to participate in sports took me to different parts of the world, where I made a lot of friends. It helps me in my professional career as a doctor and also helped to breakdown a lot of racial barriers. At the age of 53, I can still outrun a lot of people in their 20s.'And as a surgeon, I stand and operate for many hours on daily basis for five days in a week. All these would not have been possible if not for the fitness I acquired from my early days in track and field.'He further spoke on the current stem cell technology: 'I suffered a knee injury in 2008 in Boston during the Master's Indoor Championship and was unable to jump again until I received stem cell treatment two years ago. I think we can incorporate this into our sports restructuring system back home to assist in quicker rehabilitation of our injured athletes.'The stem cell technology takes about 100-200mls of fat from peoples' body, reprogramming the cells and injecting them back into the body the same day. The patient goes home the same day and repair work begins again to fix various ailments from arthritis, joint injuries, diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease, stroke and a lot of other medical problems. It also has anti-aging effect.'Olusola links the steady decline of school sports in Nigeria to lack of dedicated coaches, poor sports administration and lack of proper training of coaches. He added: 'The private sector has to be given incentives to take over sports sponsorship as it is done in the United States. They can also partner the government.'Proper education of the coaches in arrears of physiology of exercise and how it applies to fitness training is very important; there is need to organise more school competitions for talent discovery and subsequent training. Nigerian coaches should be on renewable contracts based on their performances.'Our sports facilities should be refurbished and maintained and used as training centers. The National Stadium gave me the opportunity to train in my youth, so why should such a structure be neglected' Our problem has been maintenance and there should be no need to build more facilities than we can maintain.'I also want to say that education is gold. Every Nigerian child should be given education because nothing is better than schooling. Everybody asks me how can I be a doctor and participate in sports at such a high level' This is possible if students prioritize their time, be productive with their time, read when they are supposed to and train when they are supposed to.'Young children should learn to cut out a lot of unnecessary socializing and remain focused. My ability to compete at the national level as a doctor was an inspiration for some of my peers in those days to get back to school.
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