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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

How a Nigerian hairdresser ended up a para-powerlifting champion

Bose Omolayo at the Para Powerlifting World Cup last year
Bose Omolayo holds the para-powerlifting world record in her weight category

A chance encounter was all it took for Bose Omolayo to begin her journey from hairdresser to two-time Paralympic Games powerlifting champion.

For while the Nigerian had no idea of her potential, it was clear to one of her visitors that she could – like the hair she tended – shine.

Omolayo’s childhood was incredibly tough as she was paralysed from the waist down aged 12 because of polio – which subsequently led to brutal rejection by her own family.

“They told my mother to throw me away,” Omolayo told BBC Sport Africa.

“People started looking down on me. My family were looking at me like somebody who cannot not make it in life, somebody who cannot give birth to children and who cannot marry.”

Omolayo left home aged just 15 and, after dropping out of school, ended up in Seme, a town close to the border with Benin.

She was working there as a hairdresser in 2007 when powerlifting coach Feyisetan Are encouraged her to take up the sport – yet she was initially wary of his approach.

“There was a man who came to my hair salon to pester me to join para-powerlifting,” Omolayo said.

“He asked me to follow him to the stadium to see things for myself. I was happy to see people like me there. I saw those carrying weights and I said to myself ‘I can also do it’.

“He took a taxi to my shop, otherwise I would not have followed him,” she said of a small detail that would change her life.

Becoming Paralympic champion

Bose Omolayo with a gold medal at the Para Powerlifting World Cup last year
Omolayo set a new world record in her category at the World Para Powerlifting Championships last year

Are was convinced Omolayo could become a successful lifter because of her physique, and he was not mistaken.

After participating in several national festivals in Nigeria, the 33-year-old won silver at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Scotland on her first overseas outing.

Further medals and world records soon followed.

Omolayo took gold in the under-79kg category at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, before then successfully defending her title in Tokyo last year.

She followed that up by setting a new world record with her lift of 144kg during her victory at the World Para Powerlifting Championships in in Tbilisi, Georgia, last December.

Today, the girl shunned by her family – and told she could not have children nor get married – is a mother of three.

Her husband Sunday is a pastor, and her powerlifting success has helped transform their lives.

“I have built a house for myself and also built a church for my husband from the money I made in this sport,” she said.

But Omolayo is not done with the sport yet, and has plans laid out when her lifting career is over.

“I will not forget my colleagues when I retire,” she said.

“I will organise para sports competitions for them because most people living with disabilities are not financially buoyant. It is when they go for competitions that they make money.”

Bose Omolayo
Omolayo says she will do her best to help those less financially fortunate than herself

Happily, Omolayo has a better relationship with her family.

“My family who once rejected me are now happy for me. They are close to me now.”

There is also one other element of life that she is keen to rekindle as she charts her next step.

“Now, I am planning to open a hair salon where hairdressers will work for me and I will be paying them,” she smiles.

Source: BBC

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