One of the best moments for Team Nigeria. Lauritta Onye wheels out in ecstasy celebrating winning GOLD in women's Shot Put. Photo Credit: Getty Images

In September 2021, the world’s best special athletes will converge in Tokyo, Japan, for the highly anticipated Paralympic Games, with each athlete having a story to tell on how they made it to the Games.

One of such athletes is Nigeria’s Lauritta Onye, who is the defending champion in the women’s F40 Shotput event, and an actor in Nigeria’s movie industry, Nollywood! The F40 category as classified by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), is the category for athletes with Achondroplasia (short-limbed dwarfism).

Record Breaker

Not many can forget Onye’s acrobatic displays and dramatic celebrations when she broke the World Record (WR) twice in her event to strike GOLD at the Rio Paralympics nearly five years ago. Having previously set a new WR of 7.72m at the 2015 IPC Athletics World Championships in Doha where she won GOLD and emerged the country’s sole medallist, she improved on that WR in Rio when she recorded a new mark of 7.83m, before shattering the WR once again, replacing it with 8.40m to win Nigeria’s first Athletics GOLD medal in Rio whilst becoming the first ever F40 female athlete to throw over 8m!

Not many can forget Lauritta Onye’s celebration after winning GOLD at the Paralympics. However, the talented athlete is not pleased with the current situation ahead of the Tokyo Paralympics. Photo Credit: Getty Images

Onye qualified for the Tokyo Paralympics after claiming a Bronze medal at the 2019 World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai, a feat she achieved without camping or the guidance of her coach due to paucity of funds. It was only her second competition since winning GOLD in Rio three years earlier, with the first being the 2019 Tunis Grand Prix held in July where she won GOLD in the Javelin and two Silver medals (Shot put and Discus).

Low morale ahead of the Tokyo Paralympics

However, as the countdown to the Tokyo Paralympics begins, Onye does not seem motivated to repeat the exploits from Rio 2016, and the reason isn’t farfetched. Asking how her preparations for the Games are going, Onye said:

“In terms of preparation, I shouldn’t be the only one responsible for preparing myself even though on my own I will try to push, but by now we are supposed to be in camp and have some support, but there’s nothing for now. We need financial support. How will I prepare without financial support? Of course, I will try my best, but there’s a limit to what I can do”.

Several postponements of the festival not helping matters

One of the causes of Onye’s frustration is the country’s inability to hold the National Sports Festival (NSF) which would have served as a major boost in preparing for the Paralympics, whilst also providing prize money that would have gone a long way in funding her preparation for the Games.

The Sports Festival is Nigeria’s biggest inter-sport competition, sort of a mini-Olympics, and is meant to hold every two years. The last edition was billed to hold in March 2020 but was postponed because of the outbreak of the coronavirus. It was eventually re-scheduled for December 2020 but then moved to January 2021, before being postponed to February. The event has now been fixed for April.

In spite of the discouragement of not having competed all through 2018, Lauritta Onye didn’t stop training.

“I’m not happy about the frequent postponement of the NSF”, Onye stated. “If elections were to hold, they would not have been postponed, but they’re playing with our lives, careers and talents. They are not encouraging us at all. This is killing the morale of athletes. Many athletes have been training and preparing but now morale is low due to the frequent postponements. It has affected me in many ways: spiritually, physically, mentally and otherwise. In terms of improvement, I am not where I was last year.

“Also, we were meant to earn money that would aid our preparation for the Games. Some athletes are no longer training because they’re not sure that the festival won’t be postponed again. I can’t say I have improved because of everything happening, postponements of the festival and lack of financial support. Assuming we were in camp now, there will be no distractions and we will be able to focus and fire on.”

‘My acting career funds my sports career’

In spite of her massive achievements for Nigeria, Onye has to fund her training and preparations by herself without any support from the government or corporate sponsors. And so, the Paralympic GOLD medallist who also doubles a Nollywood actor, where she goes by the name ‘Laury White’, is giving her attention to acting in the meantime. She is currently on a movie set to earn money that would be injected into her preparations for the Tokyo Games. The downside to this approach is that it reduces her training time and causes a lot of distractions.

Lauritta Onye on a movie set. The former World Record holder sustains her Athletics career by using funds she makes as an actress in the Nigerian movie industry. Photo Credit: Lauritta Onye

“I’ve not been to training in the last two weeks because I’m on location on a movie set, because I have to look for money to support my sports career. I can’t leave acting because that’s what puts food on my table”, she said.

“The way I balance my sports career is through acting. I should have gone very far in acting but I’ve not because of sports. The reason I’ve attained the heights I’ve gotten to in sports was because I put my acting career by the side and focused on sports. I gave sports 80% and acting 20%, but because of the disappointments I’ve suffered, it’s now 50-50.

“I’m currently in Lagos, and if anybody calls me to a movie set, I’ll definitely go, since I’m not in camp at the moment. I’m not going to play with my acting career anymore. I don’t have anyone else helping me or supporting me. I make my living through entertainment, so nothing is going to stop me from taking an acting job because I’ve suffered a lot of disappointment from sports”, she added.

In spite of her disenchantment with the current situation, Onye still makes out time to train when she’s not on set as seen in the video below:

What will it take to win a medal in Tokyo?

When asked what it would take to get her to record-breaking level again ahead of the Tokyo Games, Onye stated that the stakes need to be raised as far as athlete welfare is concerned: “What can get me to that level again even though I can’t do it on my own but by God’s grace, is there is something you can do that will boost an athlete’s morale and even make them break all the records available. I expected that when we returned from the Rio Paralympics that the President was going to award us financially or give us gifts, for instance a car.

“Movement from one place to the other is very challenging for the physically challenged in Nigeria, and even more expensive. Take for instance an athlete who uses a wheelchair. Most times they have to pay double of the fare in public buses because most times no one wants to pick such passengers because of the inconvenience posed by the wheelchair. So, they actually spend more than the able bodied, but our country is only concerned about Football.

“Or give them a house. One of my counterparts from another country who won Bronze was given a house, unlike me who won GOLD with a World Record at the time. I have been consistently getting on the podium in international competitions and nothing has been done for me. It’s really painful. I’m not happy at all”, she concluded.


Yemi Galadima is a Senior Sportswriter and Editor at Making of Champions. She has a bias for Athletics and was previously a Sports Reporter at the National Mirror, where she hosted a weekly column ‘On the Track with Yemi Olus’ for over two years. A self-acclaimed ‘athletics junkie’, she has covered national and international events live, such as the African Athletics Championships, African Games, Olympics and World Athletics Championships. She also freelances for World Athletics.


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