I almost lost my life before winning eight festival gold – Ukpeseraye

Delta State cyclist, Ese Ukpeseraye, won eight gold medals in eight races at the 2022 National Sports Festival in Asaba. In this interview with PETER AKINBO, the Delta-born athlete talks about how she overcame several obstacles to become the first cyclist to win all her races at the NSF

How were you able to win eight gold medals at last year’s festival?

Before I went to Asaba, I already made up my mind that I wanted to win gold in all my races. I am the kind of person who makes use of any opportunity that comes my way because I am not going to do this forever. So, whenever I am going to the festival, I always work hard, and with God, everything comes easy for me. I had a lot of crashes and accidents that could have made me lose my life but I still kept hard at it. Some things happened to me that almost prevented me from competing but I still did. I had bruises and my body hurt during the festival but I stood up because I was eager to get all the medals.

What were some of these things that happened that almost made you miss the festival?

The first was that the bicycle I used was not what I wanted. I am actually happy I did not get the bike because a lot of people might have said it was because I used a particular bike that I won all the medals. The bicycle later came after the festival but I am glad I didn’t need it.

When did you become serious about cycling?

I became serious in 2013. It was my friend in the village who always saw me riding local bicycles that introduced me to cycling. And gradually from there, I got better. I wanted to quit but when I saw other women doing it, I never gave up.

What is your next goal after your festival feat?

I want to win an intercontinental championships now, since I have also won in Africa for Nigeria.

When you started cycling, did your family support you?

In the first place, my mom knew I loved my bicycle. When we went to the farm then, I would always ride my bicycle. I regret that now that I am doing well in cycling, she is not here. I lost my parents some time ago. My mom supported me. If not for her, I might not be where I am today because she allowed me to stay somewhere else at a a young age to learn cycling. Sometimes I would have bruises but she still supported me, my dad also.

As a woman, it feels like you have to do more than a man to be recognised as an athlete. How hard did you find it?

As a lady, I don’t want to depend on anyone because I know what my mother passed through. I try to be serious about what I’m doing because sometimes we are harassed on the road. People have told me to look for a job and stop cycling. When I look at them, it irritates me because some of them are street ladies. I’m fighting for my future, I make sure I keep pushing, my sisters are always there for me, praying for me. My sport is very hard. You can get involved in accidents that can make you unable to cycle again. My siblings prayers and support keep me going because they are the only people I have now.

What does winning eight gold medals mean to you?

Some people will think it’s because of the money. I’m very happy that I worked for something. Nobody has done what I did before in cycling. I couldn’t believe it. And even if I can’t do it again, I’m still the only one to ever do it and people will still talk about it in the future. I’m very happy.

Can you tell us what events you won all these medals?

My first event was mixed relays with the boys and girls, the second was team pursuit 3km and then we did road race, elimination race, individual time trials, 200m sprint, 500m sprint and 1km sprint. I participated in all cycling events.

What would you have done if not for cycling?

I would be into business. I don’t want to work under anybody because I don’t have the strength to stand the insults.

What was the moment that gave you the most joy in cycling?

It was when I travelled to Asmara, Eritrea in 2018 and I won gold and silver. It was an African cup event but it was not really recognised. However, I enjoyed going to another country for a competition.

Do you think cycling is properly recognised in Nigeria?

It’s not. Anytime we travel and come back with medals, we do not hear anything about it, but some other sports will be all over social media.

Do you think the cycling federation is making enough attempts to market cycling?

They are trying but something about Nigerians is that they only focus on what they like. I think cycling can still get that recognition it deserves but maybe by then I might have already stopped. However, the younger cyclists shall enjoy it.

Do you think there are enough competitions in cycling?

Cycling is tough. There were lots of competitions at the last festival and there were some times I almost didn’t win. I was scared but I had to keep the fear away and focus on my goals.