By Peter Akinbo
In this part of the world, parents usually try to shield their children from combat sports, and while on rare occasions, some parents support this decision, it is even rarer that a parent wants their daughter involved in a full contact sport like Taekwondo.
In the case of 17-year-old Taofeeqot Ayoola, she tells PUNCH Sports Extra of how her father Lasisi took her to a Taekwondo training school when she was still five and her mum Basirat was on board as it was a family thing.
“My dad registered me then at a training school. I was very young then and did not know so much about it, but I got interested as I was getting older and grew to love it.
“My mum was also in support of it, this is because we are five children in our family and everyone is already into Taekwondo. I am the fourth, so, when it was my turn, there were no concerns,” Ayoola said.
A recent graduate of Agbesan Secondary School in Lagos, Ayoola spoke about her dreams to represent Nigeria in one of the intercontinental tournaments and become a champion.
“My goal is to be a national champion for Nigeria, and also to go for competitions representing the country. Even if I don’t win everything; there is a lot of experience I can gain at these international tournaments, which will make me a better athlete,” she told PUNCH Sports Extra.
She turned 17 May 2 and is already anticipating the chance to represent Lagos at the National Sports Festival next year after she was assured by her coach that she would get her chance once she turned 18.
“I will be 18 next year, and I will be able to compete with some of the best athletes in the country. I know it won’t be easy but I believe I can face anyone that is in my weight as long as the person is a human being like me,” she said.
Some of her confidence perhaps comes from sparring with her male counterparts as the Agbesan resident prefers to spar with the boys than the girls.
“I don’t like training for my fights with the females, I prefer to spar with the guys, and this has helped me a lot. Sometimes they beat me, sometimes I win, but I always know that I can beat someone bigger and stronger than I am, so it gives me a lot of confidence when I am facing any opponent,” Ayoola told PUNCH Sports Extra.
The 2nd Dan black belt holder told PUNCH Sports Extra how her happiest and saddest moments both came at the 2021National Youth Games in Ilorin, Kwara State.
“My happiest moment was when I was able to participate in the National Youth Games in 2021. I lost in my second fight and I did not win any medal but it was a very wonderful experience and that is why it is my happiest.
“My saddest moment was also at the festival because I wasn’t ready to lose when I did, I felt I could have done more, it was my biggest competition at that time and I was not able to do more, so, it made me very sad,” she said
For every young athlete, especially those juggling education with the sport, there comes an occasion when they feel like quitting the game they love.
Ayoola isn’t an exception.
“I have felt like giving up on Taekwondo before but I didn’t because I have a lot of passion for it and I love when I am on the mat. My coaches also helped me a lot, coach Bamidele Kazeem really helped me to continue going at it,” Ayoola told PUNCH Sports Extra.
Lagos State Taekwondo coach Kazeem, who trains the teenager and took her to her first tournament the year he met her, describes Ayoola as a “regular gold medal winner.”
“I have known her since she was nine. I discovered her from her club at Abesan Estate, where she was training under Master Lucky Ogunmelen. I saw potential in her and started grooming her. She represented Lagos at the National School Open Festival in 2015, and she claimed gold.
“I also took her to multiple sports festivals and youth games and she just kept winning gold medals. She’s been at Taekwondo for a long time and now she’s a regular gold medal winner,” Kazeem told PUNCH Sports Extra.
“I think the sky is the limit for someone of her abilities. She trains a lot and is dedicated, when an athlete is committed as she is, I think she can achieve anything she wants,” he added.