I don’t wear jeans, I like dresses – Blessing Okagbare

Did you have a silver-spoon upbringing?
Growing up was difficult because I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I was a tomboy since I grew up among boys. Life was tough; we didn’t have everything in the world but I remained focused, especially on my studies. I am the last child and I have two siblings
. I grew up with my dad because my parents separated when I was quite young. They were already divorced by the time my mum passed away 11 years ago. I didn’t Were you single-handedly raised by your dad?
Yes, I was. My dad was a wholesale trader; he used to travel to Benin, where he sold goods but he barely had enough money to make ends meet. The market where he traded was always destroyed by fire and that made life difficult for us.
Why didn’t you choose to live with your mother?
My siblings and I chose to go with our dad. I recall my mum coming to my dad’s shop and I innocently got up to attend to her. Some people around were like ‘That’s your mum’ and she began to cry. I was about 11 years old at the time; she left before I turned two, so I never really knew her.
Did she try to reconcile with your dad?
No, she did not because she already had another family.
What helped you to become the woman you are today?
I have always had my siblings; I have a brother and a sister. My grandmother practically raised and trained me to become a strong woman. She loved me unconditionally and I love her as well. She told me that I am a special child because my mum was delivered of me after 11 months of pregnancy.
What schools did you attend?
I attended Zik Grammar School, Sapele. I couldn’t attend university immediately because my dad said he couldn’t afford the tuition. I had to stay at home for two years. My brother saw to it that I was admitted to a polytechnic. I was about rounding off my Ordinary National Diploma programme when I got a scholarship to attend a university in America.
Is your father alive?
Yes, he’s 77. I feel he is now more involved in my activities, but I’m fine with my brother and sister.
At what stage in life did you realise that you were born to run?
I became interested in running at a young age. I was good at high jump and I played soccer a lot. Even though I was good at soccer, I did not want to play soccer professionally because I felt I would look too masculine if I did. I also felt I was too cute to play soccer.
How long do you wish to run for?
Nike sponsors me and athletics is the career I have settled for. I don’t know how many more years I really want to continue running for. I have not taken any break, and people don’t realise that I go harder on myself each year. I may take a break and come back hopefully before 2020.
How will you rate your performance at the Rio Olympics?
It didn’t feel like an Olympic Games for me and that is not because I didn’t win a medal. This was my third Olympics. At previous ones, the team was in high spirits but this year, the morale was just low. Rio Olympics was our worst outing ever.
How would you describe your personality?
I am blunt and I hate injustice. I can also be quite emotional because I know how hard athletics can be. I’m very passionate and dedicated to the sport.
How did you meet your husband?
I had known him for many years before I left Nigeria and we have been married for two years. He is the definition of a true gentleman and I would never ask for a better person. If you get to meet him, you will realise that he is a man of very few words. I had to let go of certain traits when I met him. He is a God-fearing person and this is an uncommon trait in a lot of men today. He contributes to the advancement of my career in several ways. Now I have a shoulder to cry on. That’s a good thing about having a partner; it’s not just about love. You need someone who will stand for you and support you all the way.
Did you deliberately set out to marry a sportsman?
I would have married someone outside sports if he met the requirements that God had set for my future husband. I had a lot of suitors but my husband was different.
How do you cope with fame?
I don’t act like Blessing Okagbare the star athlete. I don’t really think money and fame can ever change me. I have the fear of God and I think that keeps me level-headed. I love cooking and my husband calls me his personal chef. My reserved nature surprises people. I also love keeping our home tidy. My husband even jokes about the fact that we can’t hire a cook or housekeeper because I am thoroughly domesticated.
Do you like fashion?
I’m a little fashionista. I try to take regular make-up tutorials. I love transforming my looks after every season. I will not wear jeans because I love girly dresses. After each season, I tend to lose a lot of weight. After wearing sweatpants for seven months, I take one month of my break to dress well.

If you were not into sports, what career path would you have settled for?
I would either have been a lawyer or a banker. My dad would have wanted me to go into modelling. Notwithstanding, my passion for athletics has kept me going on strong.
When do you plan to start a family?
We will when we are ready and in God’s time.
What advice will you give to young ladies who aspire to be like you?
They need to stay focused and realise their passion early enough. It requires a lot of energy and perseverance. You have to just take a deep breath and stay focused. Your passion has to drive you to that point where it can overshadow your breaking point. A lot of people drive me crazy, but the love I have for what I do, keeps me happy.
How do you handle sexual harassment in your field?
I am smart and cautious. I am also of the opinion that if you don’t lean towards something, it will not come to you. Every female athlete can ward off sexual harassment if they mean to. I don’t understand why a married man will not be satisfied with his wife. Sexual harassment is very wrong but at the same time, I feel both parties have to actually agree for it to occur.

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