While Shadrach in the Bible stepped into the fire, Simon Shadrack dives into the water to make his own name, the 18-year-old started swimming at the age of 10 and he has never looked back since as he continues his quest to become an Olympian.
The athlete who hails from Ondo state but lives in Lagos told PUNCH Sports extra how he fell in love with the sport and how his friends also loved to swim.
“I started swimming in 2015. I fell in love with the sport quite easily, it is the sport I like most among all the other sports out there, most of my friends also swim, and I really like swimming as a profession,” he said.
When Shadrack decided to start swimming as an athlete in competitions, he sought out a coach and began the journey that would ultimately take him to the National Sports Festival in Asaba, Delta State.
“When I wanted to start swimming professionally, there was a coach that was training people in my area and I went to meet him that I was interested in swimming, and when he tested some people around my age, he picked me that I have the right attributes for a good swimmer, and that was when I started my swimming career.
“In the beginning, it was not easy to learn to swim, the beginning was very hard but I kept on doing it, and when it got to a stage, I don’t even know when I started enjoying it but I did and everything that used to be hard is now very easy. Let’s say it took a period of two years before it became easy,” he said.
Coming from a family that loves to swim, it was quite easy to get into the sport and his family encouraged his athletic pursuits when he started.
“All my family members; my father, my mother, even my senior brothers, were swimming before so they have always supported me when I developed an interest in the sport back in 2015,” Shadrack said.
Like many top Nigerian athletes, the 18-year-old was baptized and won his first gold medal at the National Youth Games.
“I have been to a lot of competitions, more than 15 competitions and I have won a lot of medals at all of them but the most memorable one is still the first gold medal I won which was in Ilorin at the National Youth Games in 2021 when I was representing Delta state,” he said.
He also spoke about competing at the Sports Festival in 2022.
“I was at the 21st National Sports Festival in Asaba last December representing Akwa Ibom state which was my first time appearing at a festival and I won a bronze medal and this medal made me very happy. The experience was really amazing; I got to use the facilities there. I did not even imagine that I could win a medal at the festival because most of the other athletes that competed with me had been training with better equipment and some were even based outside the country and just came for the festival, so to do better than some of these athletes who have better opportunities and resources was amazing for me,” he told PUNCH Sports Extra.
When asked why he never represented Lagos state where he resides, the teenager told PUNCH Sports Extra that he never got the support he needed from the state of Lagos.
“I started my swimming career from Lagos state but because they were not helping athletes and they did not help me at all, everybody was not being taken care of, so we all just left the state, those of us that were training together then, that was two years ago in early 2021 before the Youth Games where I represented Delta.
“Then last year January, I got in contact with some people from Akwa Ibom and I agreed to start representing them and started training with them and that was how I got the chance to represent them at the festival,” he said.
While many would think that Shadrack would pick the moment he got a gold medal at the Youth Games in 2021 as his happiest moment, nothing beats the national stage where he competed among the best the country had to offer, for him his happiest moment came at the Sports Festival in Asaba.
“My happiest moment was learning that I was selected to represent Akwa Ibom at the National Sports Festival, it was my first time performing at a competition like that, and also because I won a medal on my debut at the competition. I did not believe I would be selected or even that I would win a medal, I never expected it,” Shadrack said.
It has not always been smooth sailing for the Ondo indigene as he tells PUNCH Sports Extra about a time he came close to quitting the sport.
“Three years ago during the Covid-19 pandemic, I actually felt like giving up and not swimming anymore, because originally, I was selected to go for the festival in Edo, but after the Covid-19 lockdown, a lot of things happened, and I couldn’t make the team anymore. At that point, I really felt like giving up, because that was the point I was supposed to rise, that all my training had been preparing me for, I now said I would not swim again, but my coach now spoke to me that I should continue swimming and not give up.
“I am very glad that I did not give up, I really like swimming, all some of my seniors in the sport have travelled to a lot of countries and I want to be like them,” he said.
The athlete now seeks to upgrade his bronze medal to gold at the next National sports festival and then he dreams of a chance to compete in the Olympics like his coach.
“I want this swimming to open doors for me. First, I want to win a gold medal at the next festival and I have started training towards that so I can take care of myself with my rewards from coming first. Then I would like to put my focus on the Olympics,” Shadrack told PUNCH Sports Extra.
His coach, Yellow Yeiyah, an Olympian who swam for Nigeria at the 2008 Olympics said, “Simon has the potential to be an Olympian as long as he keeps putting in the work. In his first appearance at a festival, he won a bronze medal, he is still very young and can only keep going up from here.”