Dear Cheirika, a medal-less outcome aside, in our hearts, you’ve rowed to Gold

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Yes, Nigeria’s Chierika Ukogu qualified for the semifinals of the #RioOlympics2016 rowing event, and even though she’s not gonna be competing for medals, her immensely contagious dose of self-motivation has wrought worldwide influence on young hearts, and in our heart of hearts, she has rowed to gold.

Cheirika Ukogu Rio

The 23-year old Ukogu placed 5th in her group and thus qualified for the semi-finals C/D, as against A/B which are the medal contention rounds.

The C/D rounds are for ranking.

We at Viva Naija, joins the whole world to celebrate you Chierika, we are proud of you!

Let’s delve a bit into who Chierika Ukogu is, and what makes her a mammoth of motivation at 23!

Cheirika Ukogu Rio

Ukogu, 23, is very much a self-made Olympian. With no financial backing from Nigeria, she has financed her training, travel, and other costs, first with a full-time job and, she actually left work to focus on the final stretch before the Games, via a GoFundMe page and sales of T-shirts she designed.

To pursue this dream, Ukogu put medical school on hold for two years. If all goes as planned, she will race Saturday in the women’s single scull event in Rio and then, two days later, fly to New York to begin classes at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Her motivation is multifaceted. She wants to achieve her personal athletic goal but also hopes to inspire young people in the U.S. and Nigeria. She wants to put African rowers in a positive light, while also finding a way to promote the sport and bring it and its benefits to a country still lacking opportunities for youth.

“If I show people that nothing is impossible, if I can spread that message, I’ve done my job,” she said. “A lot of people say, ‘How do you do all these things? How are you so determined?’ I know being in the U.S. has given me amazing opportunities, and I have to take advantage of them, not only for me, but for other people.”

In an interview with rowing blog, Row2k recently, hear Ukogu purr motivation!

Cheirika Ukogu Rio

1. What inspired you to go to your first rowing practice; was there anything memorable about it?

I was a competitive cheerleader in grade school, and I planned to continue when I started high school at Mount Saint Joseph’s Academy, an all-girls catholic school outside of Philadelphia. Unfortunately, the team was for sideline cheerleading, there was no tumbling, choreography, or competitions so I set out to find a fall sport hold me over until basketball in the winter. I joined Mount Crew and I never looked back!

2. Was there a practice, race or other event when you fell in love with the sport, or when you knew you might not be too bad at rowing? When you thought you could make the national team?

It was totally love at first stroke for me! I loved the hard work, my teammates, my coaches. It was all so exciting.

I set out to make the Nigerian national team after watching Issaka, a single sculler from Niger, row at the 2012 Olympic Games. He was given a FISA tripartite bid, and was very new to sculling when he competed at the Games. Media outlets dubbed him the “sculling sloth” and that negative attention really got me fired up! By that point, I had been rowing for 6 years, so I saw continuing Isaaka’s legacy as the next logical step to shake things up in the rowing world and show people what we are capable of with more time and training.

3. Best race/practice, worst race/practice?

Best race: Winning the Stotesbury in the Freshman 8+ at the Mount, we were plagued by crabs at every other race that year, so being finally able to showcase our talent and pull off a win was really exciting. Also the Qualification Regatta in Tunisia, I was so nervous, but I was able to execute my plan and earn a spot in Rio!

Worst Race: Head of the Charles, I can’t remember the year, but it snowed and I raced in my uni. I didn’t warm up until we were halfway through New York.
4. Best/Anything you’ve done in the sport no one knows about?

I made the most improvements when I stopped taking things so seriously. I just try and have fun every day.

5. Any/Most important advice for young rowers?

There is a huge mental component of rowing. I’ve gotten through a lot of crazy training sessions by just approaching each workout with a positive mental framework. For instance I know I can’t pull a fast 6k if I think about the entire piece and how hard it’s going to be and how hard I have to work from the first stroke. I can however get through 3 2ks or 6 1ks. You can get through ANYTHING if you break it down into smaller chunks, reward yourself as you get through each chunk, and use that successful to keep you going!

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