There are people who are amazing athletes and have everything going for them. Then, there are amazing athletes who have made huge strides to succeed, even with all of the odds stacked against them. Ifeanyi Christian epitomizes the latter, and in the harsh realities of competing as a para-athlete in Nigeria, the sprinter has been able to surmount most of the hurdles he has had to face.
Christian wasn’t born with a disability. Instead, he had to adjust to it at age 10 when he was involved in an accident that left him not being able to use one of his hands. Most people would have been deterred, but not Christian. In fact, he began to immerse himself in sports as a way of proving himself to the world. It became difficult at some stage and he was at the cusp of giving up.
But instead of giving up on sports, Christian has thrown himself into it and his efforts started paying off in the early parts of the last decade. In that time frame, he has gone on to become Nigeria’s best athlete in the T46 100m, 200m, and 400m categories. Athletes in the T46 category have a single below or above the elbow amputation.
A native of Imo State which is in the South-Eastern part of Nigeria, Christian, who played Football before his accident, delved into Para-athletics a couple of months before going for his first-ever competition.
“I went to visit my aunt at her shop in Akwa Ibom when this lady (Idongesit Asuquo Daniel) saw me and called me. She asked me if I could run. I told her I could, so she introduced me to a coach immediately. That was the moment I started out professionally”.
That fortunate stroke of serendipity ushered him into the 2012 National Sports Festival, two months after he just started training officially as a para-athlete. The coach got Christian into the Akwa Ibom team and he joined the rest of the athletes in camp, competing with his bare feet in the build-up to Eko 2012.
He got to use a pair of spikes for the first time at the festival and was able to give a good account of himself at the competition, winning a Silver medal in the 200m men’s T46 event.
Christian continued to put in the work and churn out impressive results in competitions on the home front. He, however, had to shoulder a lot of neglect and frustration from National team selectors.
Despite being the best athlete in the T46 100m, 200m, 400m categories at the 2018 Commonwealth Games trials in Abuja, Christian was not selected among the final list of athletes who made the team to Gold Coast.
“Actually, Commonwealth Games wasn’t the first,” Christian said on his ill-luck with National team trials. “My first National trials were in 2014. I won but I wasn’t selected for the tournament which was in Dubai but I didn’t give up. Then in 2015, at the Africa Games Trials, I also won the 400m event and I was dropped for the person who emerged 2nd behind me.”
After innumerable disappointments in the past years despite his impressive record in several National team trials, Christian got a bit of respite when he became the first para-athlete to join Making of Champions Track Club (MoC) in 2019, the biggest track club in the country.
Joining MoC Track Club grants Christian access to training under the tutelage of MoC Track Club’s Olympic Medallist coaches Deji Aliu and Glory Alozie, ensuring that his talent will be harnessed so he reaches the pinnacle of his career. The move provided a new lease of life for the sprinter!
After the heartbreaks of not getting the chance to represent Nigeria, the light came at the end of the tunnel for Christian when he put up a show while representing Nigeria for the first time ever at the World Para Athletics Grand Prix, in Tunis, Tunisia, dominating the men’s 100m, 200m and 400m in the T46/47 class.
Christian won a GOLD medal on each day of the competition, starting with the 100m where he clocked a time of 11.04s to win his race. His time sets him as joint No. 7 in the world in 2019 in the T46/T47 category.
He laced his spikes the following day in the 200m, racing to a new Personal Best (PB) of 22.20s, thereby bettering his former lifetime best of 22.85s. His new PB ranked him as No.2 in the world in the T46 class and No.4 in the T46/47 combined class in 2019.
On the final day of the Grand Prix, Christian once again raced to another PB of 49.56s to strike GOLD. His time saw him finish 8th in the rankings in 2019. That same year, Christian was a finalist in the T46 100m at the World Paralympics Championships in Dubai.
Christian has broken the ice and cemented his standing as the fastest Para-athlete in Nigeria. The next port of call for him is to dominate the African scene and then the world stage even as the Tokyo Paralympics beckons!