Kelechi Nwanaga is a 2-time National Champion in the Javelin. She was a Gold medalist at The 2015 All-African Games and at the 2015 Nigeria Sports Award, she won the ‘Discovery Athlete of the year’. Kelechi chats exclusively with ‘Athletic Heat’ as she talks about why she left football to athletics, her expectations for the next AFN board among other things. Read on!
It is a pleasure granting us this interview. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Kelechi Nwanaga. I am from Umuoriehi isingwu, Umuahia north LGA. I am from a family of five were all my siblings are sports inclined but I am for now the only one to be at the national level; which is representing Nigeria. I am known to be a javelin thrower but I played football for a long time before moving into athletics which I am grateful to GOD for. I dedicated my all to football but had to stop due to lack of sponsors and i lost an opportunity then, all these resulted to me changing my mindset to go for another sports which is why I chose athletics.
When did you start athletics and what propelled you?
I began in 2013. Before I started athletics, I went for a screening in Abuja to play football for the national team and I made it but because of the level of corruption in the country I was denied the opportunity of playing for Nigeria. So I decided to do another sport that I had the talent in me to develop and I was encouraged by an athlete from Akwa Ibom to join athletics and that was how I started athletics.
Were your parents in support when you started athletics?
Well, the only surviving parent I have is my Mum, she has been my back-bone, she has been praying for me and her advice has been tremendously helpful.
You started athletics in 2013 and you are the 2-time national champion in your discipline, how did you get to the top?
When I joined athletics, the coach that discovered me, Coach Ubong Isaac from Akwa Ibom, said from the first day he saw me,he saw something unique in me. Alongside the encouragement from my Mum who in her days was also a javelin thrower, I follow her footsteps and with the encouragement from coach Ubong as well, it spurred me up to put my best in my training and that’s why I am where I’m today.
In 2014, you made your international debut appearance where you competed for Nigeria at the African Junior in Ethiopia, where you finished 2nd in the Javelin event. What was the experience like representing Nigeria?
Well, that was my first time representing the Nigeria outside Nigeria. I was scared because the people I met were of different nationalities, I have watched them on TV and so I was just psyching myself that I could do it and at the end I came home with a silver medal.
In 2015, you were at the All-African Games where you surprised everyone and won the Gold medal in your discipline. What did you do differently to win the Gold?
The first experience I had in Ethiopia was what gave me the courage because the distance the winner threw in that competition was the distance I was joking with but due to fear and low self-esteem I lost the gold. When we got back, I had to encourage myself to be the best I could be in order to make the senior team and if I do, I would work extra hard to win the Gold medal and I did.
Apart from athletics, what other sport do you do?
I play Volleyball very well and also I take part in team games and like I said earlier, I was a footballer before delving into athletics. Sometimes I still go for football training but these days I don’t go again because I see that I am at the top of my athletics career and I don’t need anything that would make me have injury which means missing out of competitions for a while.
At the 2016 African Championship in South Africa, you finished just outside the medal zone in 4th position. What would you say went wrong?
Well, I can’t really say what the problem was but all I know is that I changed coach and the coach that trained me prior to the competition gave this kind of program I was into and during the competition I wasn’t able to execute what I had. I was so dull and I tried to do something better but I couldn’t. I thank GOD all the same though I was in 3rd place but the last throw from my opponent pushed me to 4th position and another thing was competing with the African record holder. It was something else!
There were rumors that the Nigerian contingents arrived late at the African championship,was that also a factor in your poor performance?
I can’t say we arrived late, at least we arrived there before the start of the competition. I rested 4 days before my event because it was the last. So I can’t really say it was the arrival date that made us not to perform well and another thing was the weather. The weather was too cold that even after warm-up, you still don’t see sweat.
You were meant to be at the IAAF World Junior Championships in Poland even after been listed for the competition you were later sidelined. How did you feel after the whole incidence?
I knew very well I qualified for that competition but it was a surprise to me when I was called and told they will only be going with the relay team but later on I got information that athletes competing in the hurdles will be going as well. I felt bad when I was watching them on TV especially the throws but I had to summon courage because I see it as one of the challenges in life so I can work harder to throw a great distance with which they would have no choice than to take me.
At the just concluded Rio Olympics in Brazil, where no Nigerian athlete was able to pick up a medal just like in London 2012. Are we going to see a better performance in Tokyo 2020 and what went wrong that you weren’t at Rio?
Nothing went wrong. All that happened was that I didn’t make the standard. If I did, I would have been there. I am hoping to be at Tokyo 2020 Olympics and I’m working towards that and by God’s grace I will be there. Whatever we are doing in life, we have to put God first and without His grace you cant go anywhere. I know by 2020 I should be in my 60-70m throws and if I should be in that range I would be on the podium.
As an elite athlete, how do you get to cope with injuries and how do you treat it?
It depends on the nature of the injury because there are some injuries that just need rest as a therapy and these kind of injuries doesn’t have to stress you, just rest. While there are some that needs medical attention. I usually have a shock at my back because when I started learning how to throw I wasn’t taught the right Technics. So when I started learning the correct way through YouTube videos and correction from my coach, I started feeling the pain that even after my throws, I can’t sit properly till I support it with my hand. So I had to consult a doctor from the AFN and I told him my plight, he told me not to massage the back but I should just rest it and whenever I feel the pain, I should lie down till the muscles relax. It is called muscle contraction. An athlete should not just apply different medications on injuries he/she doesn’t know much about. Some injuries just need ice block as a therapy but when you use hot substances, it would take a longer time to heal. Its better to get enlightened before applying anything.
What are some of the challenges you face as an athlete?
Basically, we don’t have good facilities. Like throwing spikes when representing Nigeria, they would not get the spikes and the one I make use of is the old one that I have.The things affecting Nigerian athletes are uncountable but recently I got relief from the AFN President, Chief Solomon Ogba who bought two Javelin sticks for me and one for the High Performance Center here in Port Harcourt which I use to train as well.
The Solomon Ogba regime would come to an end by next year. As an athlete, what do you expect from the incoming board?
My expectations from them is this; already they have seen what has happened, so they should come with something that would make the athletes happy. They should listen to the voice of the athletes and not been so rigid with the athletes because sometimes, some of our officials are too rigid to athletes, that the athletes are now scared to meet them and interact. Like Our President, Solomon Ogba, he isn’t that of a rigid person from my perspective. He is a bit flexible, that you can meet him and tender your problems to him. The only issue is that, you know when a big man have so many subordinates, he gives orders and when its not carried out, everyone looks at you because they believe you are the one to do it. So let the new board listen to the athletes and know their problems and solve it at the right time.
2017 is around the corner and we all know its the year of The World Championships. How is your preparation towards that?
I can beat my chest for that and I know I’m preparing for that. I have promised myself that I would be there and I would do everything possible, not going the wrong way but for training I would suffer myself. Whatever it takes me in training to be at The World Championships, I would do it.
Any advice to your fans?
My advice is keep hoping on the Junior athletes that are coming up. We would not dissappiont, we would make y’all proud. If you watch what’s happening now, most of our old athletes would soon hand over the baton to the Juniors that are coming up. Someone like Tobi Amusan who is doing so well in the hurdles, me in the Javelin, Aniekeme Alphonus and Mercy Ntia-obong in the sprints and so many others, we are the hope of Nigeria. I would advice y’all not to lose hope on any of the Nigerian athletes because with God all things are possible.
Thanks so much for your time and we wish you the best.
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