I want to break world para-high jump record – Okechukwu


Abraham Okechukwu, a T44 athlete, set the national record at the inaugural para-high jump event at the National Sports Festival in Asaba, Delta State last month with a jump of 1.91m, just 0.24m shy of the world record. In this interview with PETER AKINBO, Okechukwu opens up on his career and more

Can you tell us about your background?

I am 21 years old and I was born in Rivers State. My father has 10 children: six boys, and four girls. I am the sixth child and I and my elder sister, Mariam, are the only ones who are physically challenged. She’s currently undergoing her NYSC, she’s done with school. I was staying with my family until 2017, when I moved out and started staying on my own, hustling for myself.

How did you feel setting the record in the high jump?

I was able to jump 1.91m and I feel excited about breaking the national record, although this is not my personal best which is 1.95m. I am satisfied with this to an extent, but I believe I can do better, my best is still yet to come. I am aiming for 2.05m or 2.10m in my next championship and I believe I can eventually break the world record of 2.15m.

What was going through your mind during the run-up to the jump?

So many things went through my mind, but I just tried to be calm, and try to do better with every run.

What were your expectations going into the festival?

My aim was to do better, to beat my personal record, and also qualify for an international competition so I can show what I can do. I am glad winning the gold medal in the high jump. I also wanted to win in the long jump, but I had body pains and stomach ache and couldn’t.

Did your family support you going into sports?

In the beginning, when I started sports in 2015, my dad and I had differences because he wanted me to focus on education and we argued a lot about it. However, early 2021, I made the national team and travelled to Switzerland, then he started believing in sports. My mum, brothers and sisters have always supported me as a sportsman, though. My father’s fear was that if I got injured, the country would neglect me and I would also not be able to take care of myself, but I kept going. But my mother talked to him on several occasions, on my behalf, to allow me continue with sports, since it was what I wanted to do.

How did you take care of yourself after moving out of your parents’ house?

I stayed close to the University of Port Harcourt and there was a cyber café in the school that I would go to most of the time and stay with a friend. I would help him out with the work and he paid me stipends; that helped me.

Did you later go back to school?

Yes, I am in school now, at the University of Calabar, I am in 100 level and I study Tourism. Going back to school really made my dad happy but now he understands that athletics is my main focus.

Have there been moments you felt like quitting?

I do say that it’s the person that gives up that loses. But yes, there had been times like that. I started athletics in 2015, but because my event, the high jump, wasn’t usually added to competitions, I didn’t training with the para-athletes. So, when I didn’t get opportunities to attend competitions, I moved to swimming. In swimming, I noticed that swimmers didn’t travel out for global competitions on a regular basis, so I tried to move to judo, but at that time, para-judo was not yet recognised here, so I returned to high jump. Then, the Vice President of the Para-athletics Federation camped at a university in Rivers State and they saw me training and they asked for my contact and started taking me on trials. However, despite going through several trials, and spending so much money and time, there was no selection or compensation. So, I would sometimes get depressed, but still I knew sports was my thing, it’s what I like to do and what I can do best. So, I just focused on it, as there is no shortcut to success; when you train, you improve. There is no giving up.

What’s society’s reaction to you as a physically challenged person?

I was laughed at, but mostly by children, that was when I was younger. You know, children will normally laugh at almost everyone, so, I would just shrug it off. Even when people laughed at me, it never made me feel anyhow because I knew what I could do. I know who I am, and I know my abilities, so I never felt depressed whenever people laughed at me. I know what I am capable of both mentally and physically, so whenever people looked down on me, I just ignored it. I know not everyone likes physically challenged people, I don’t see it as a challenge.

Did you ever feel sad that you were born this way?

Well, growing up, I did ask myself certain questions but as time went on, I saw myself as a normal person because there were some things I could do that others couldn’t do. I know within me how capable I am. Sometimes, I talk to my sister and we motivate each other, she helps me a lot.

Who is your biggest source of motivation?

My family and friends do motivate me but I also motivate myself. We are the only ones who can give ourselves the highest level of motivation.

Have you ever begged for alms?

No, I have never begged on the roadside. Of course, sometimes, I do ask friends or family for some assistance, but I have always focused on my hustle.

If you had a child with your condition, how would you motivate him?

I’ll be happy, it’s not a bad thing. I would motivate him by telling him the truth, the good and the bad. I will make sure he learns skills, and go to school. I will try my best to bring out his potential.