Nigeria might not have presented an athlete at the 2017 African Junior Championships in Algeria, but there was an athlete with Nigerian heritage who competed there, of course not representing Nigeria but Zimbabwe, yes you read right!
Born in Aba, Abia state, a commercial town in the South Eastern part of Nigeria renowned for being the business of hub of that region, Kelechi Mgbemena Christian has gone through the Nigerian system and embedded in its culture.
Then comes the curious paradox: how did she end up running for Zimbabwe? Well it’s an established fact that Nigerians travel a lot and have been to places you wouldn’t think they would ever berth in.
For Christian, she left Nigeria for Harare with her family when she was just 10 years old, giving up schooling in Nigeria to start a new life in a new environment.
It was on getting to Harare that she struck a bond with Athletics, dominating in her secondary schools competition and steadily climbing up the ladder to get noticed by the Zimbabwean Athletics Federation.
No doubt she’s a bludgeoning talent and running for Zimbabwe could have looked easier said than actuality, but she had to prove herself at each stage to really show she merited any spot in their National team.
“We did school trials, from school they have something called zonal. From your school you get selected into a specific zone, then from zone you enter the district. That’s like the district in a particular state, then you have something like provincial where they bring all the states (about 10) together to compete. I ran for Harare because that’s where my school is located,” Christian explained on the stages she scaled to represent Zimbabwe.
From the outside, it would have looked like one could just waltz into the national team of Zimbabwe, but it’s definitely not as easy as it looks.
Proving her mettle at each hurdle, not surprising that Mgbemena was snapped up and enrolled to represent Zimbabwe for the first time at the regional Southern African Athletics Championships in 2015.
That exposure groomed her to start looking ahead and preparing for an even much bigger test on the continent.
Two years after establishing herself as a mainstay in the Zimbabwean Junior teams, Christian went under 12s for the first time in her career, racing to a Personal Best of (PB) 11.96s to win their National Junior Trials in Harare.
While it is up for debate what would have been the possible outcome of some events at the 2017 African Junior Championships had Nigeria sent a team, there’s no disputing that another Nigerian flourished in the absence of others.
Christian easily defeated the field to win GOLD for Zimbabwe in the Women’s 100m, clocking a time of 12.08s. It’s a rare feat for Zimbabwe not often heard of. She probably would have doubled but for her bad start in the 200m, stumbling and losing balance at the blocks and having to play catch up for the majority of race. She still finished on the podium, taking Bronze in 24.71s.
That was the perfect launch pad any athlete would love to have. However certain challenges made her take a hiatus from the sport, and having to relocate back to Nigeria in 2018, that’s nine years after she left as a 10-year old.
She teamed up with Making of Champions and is now gradually finding her feet back, having to re-adapt to the environment again and also Athletics regiments. On moving back to Nigeria and having to train again, she said: “At first it was difficult. Training was difficult and different but the body gradually adapted, every other thing became much easier,” she added.
Gradually settling back into the Nigerian system, she has now set her sights on improving: “I want to get stronger, since I am just coming back into Athletics after a short break. I also want to run a new Personal Best.”
Now a 100 level student at the University of Lagos, where she’s studying Human Kinetics and Health Education, Kelechi is taking it one step at a time. She’s not new to challenges, and if she was able prove herself in 2017 when she conquered the continent, she could be on the same trajectory to add Nigeria to her conquest.