Robert Simmons is a quatermiler who started competing in the Nigeria in 2014. He is a six-time All American, four-time SEC champion and 2014 African Championships Silver medalist with a Personal Best of 45.84s. He speaks to Athletic Heat on his life as an athlete, problems of Nigerian Athletics and his candid advice to young athletes who wants to succeed amongst other things.
Can you briefly talk about yourself?
I’m a 400m specialist. Victor Omagbemi is my uncle and former coach. I was not recruited or paid to compete for Nigeria. I have never been paid by anyone to come to Nigeria and run. My training and coaching has been paid for on my own. I received no funding or money I’m treated the same as home base.
How long have you been running for Nigeria?
So what has the experience been running for Nigeria?
If you watch any film of Nigeria men 4×4, I have been the key factor in keeping the team competitive in 2015 they gave me the baton in 5th behind Ghana, Botswana, Kenya and Algeria. I closed the gap and made it competitive unfortunately our final leg was not healthy and able to perform his best works. In relays I get baton in 7th I bring the team to second place then we lost because our team was not strong, same thing in Penn Relay last time we men won a medal was silver all Africa champs 2014 and we went to the wire with Botswana now we are the laughing stock of Africa. My experience has been bitter-sweet due to injuries and lack of funding and lack of understanding on many different sides. I have personally had to console athlete who threaten not to compete at the big meet due to no money at 2015 World Relays and Penn Relays they only gave us $125 for three weeks and had Miles Ukoama paying for other athletes bags. They sent Lawreta (Ozoh) and Divine (Oduduru) and Coach Dan to USA and myself and coach had to pay out of pocket for the meals lodging and travel.
But you weren’t at any of the 2016 meetings, why is that?
I was not at able because I refuse to pay my own to any of the meets and be lied to when they say they will pay me back. They owe a friend of mine from Grand Prix way back in 2009 they never pay the money they owe. Last year I got Tega (Odele) and Ogho (Egwero) into the Madrid IAAF meeting, the federation force them to miss the meet.
What do you deduce from all this, is the problem of the Nigerian Athletics Federation?
The problem is AFN, nothing ever goes right. There is no planning, no coordination, no trust. It’s like a circus coaches don’t even trust the AFN. The AFN doesn’t appreciate or respect the athletes and their effort.
Did you ever get to compete for USA?
I ran USA Jr only never on a senior level.
How do you do as an individual develop yourself?
Me personally I’m different. See! A person can’t tell me what I can’t do because that just clarifies that I can do it and that person doesn’t want me to do it. I use that negative energy and thoughts to motivate myself and prove the doubters wrong. It’s not easy for me but it’s very different because I live in USA, most home base are not given the advantage I have by living abroad you know like the work force and everything.
What are this advantages you have over an home based athlete?
One of the advantage I have is that I am allowed to work for a decent wage and train so I can pay for some travel to meets and not miss out as well as medical treatment and etc. Most home based athletes get hurt and then they are injured for long time due to no money or treatment. Again being in USA and training is not easy whatsoever. It’s hard, very hard but more manageable I honestly considered moving to train in Abuja last year but that dream was dashed when I realized they don’t want to pay.
What do you do in your training that is key to your success?
What I do in my training is I treat it like race day I make sure every rep counts and that I go through my race day routine and strategy over and over. I try to mentally simulate the race day feelings so that I can be be prepared to conquer them on that day.
You said earlier that you are related to Victor Omagbemi. What state do you come from and do you have family members back here in Nigeria?
Haha! It’s funny you ask that but my family originates from Delta state. If you noticed some people changed their names on the passport I never did because I know my heritage.
Its just for people to be cleared on that aspect because most people have this feeling that you were also imported?
Nah! I told you I’m not a slave to AFN they don’t own me, they did not buy me, pay me nor do they assist me with nothing, so being imported is not me. To be imported means someone has to pay for it then bring it to the next country that never happened in my case
So what was the best advice you have ever been given?
Best advice given to me was just run for the love of the sport. The money will come and I encourage others to do so if they run for Nigeria to pay them they will run for the rest of their life for pennies. If they run for the love of the sport and competition then they can go places and see the world.
What makes you different from other athletes?
Only thing that separates me from anyone else is what the clock reads when I cross the finish line besides that we are all human and created equal.
What’s the biggest challenge you have faced on the track and how did you manage the pain?
Biggest challenge I have faced is financially travel, coaching and medical it’s not cheap and it’s a fine line between managing it all. I Manage the pain by using it to motivate myself to over come and be great true champions are those who can endure.
What do you aim to achieve through sport?
I want to be champion but a leader and help change the dynamic of things that have plagued Nigeria sport helping change things would be more to me than a medal because it will help the younger generations.
Lastly, what’s your advice to young athletes?
My advice to upcoming athletes is run for the love of the sport and to better your life but not through Nigeria university, use the UK and US system to get a education, dual citizenship and get better. If they have question they need to message me or call me. Ask, I helped Omezia (Akerele) and Fasasi (Kunle) get in college. Gabriel Okon and myself have never seen eye to eye but when he told me his story I respect him more and we both have the same goal. It’s sad I see people like Patience (Okon), Amaka (Ogbegbunam) , Ogho (Egwero) , Obinna (Metu) , Orukpe (Erayokan) and Divine (Oduduru) had these young people went to school in NCAA they would have nice contract and be at big meets because they would have shown that they can run with the USA best and do well. The reason I say such is because they would have won multiple NCAA titles. My heart hurts for the youth as some of these people try to ruin they life with bad decisions telling them go pro running 10.3s, 10.2s, 46s etc. It’s crazy but my advice is run for the love of sport and change your life and forget Nigeria and AFN take them out the question and focus on you. If I know Golden League no pay why stay and keep running for free? The athletes just have to reach out to us that know and we will help.
Are you saying they should leave Nigeria and find solace in another country?
Never! But if they leave for USA college when they come to Nigeria for national trials or anything, money won’t be the issue. Look at Chidi, Blessing, Fassasi. The people that was in college that come home for trials, the school fly them back to Nigeria and makes sure they are good and set. They don’t complain of money etc.
Thanks for your time.