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Eniola Bolaji Mariam has once again put Nigeria on the world map after winning two gold medals at the just concluded Spanish Para Badminton International 2024 in Victoria and Toledo. Consequently, after her wonderful performance, the Kwara-born para badminton sensation is now ranked 5th in the new para badminton ranking. In this exclusive Q&A with Sogbade Aishat, she shares some of the challenges in her career, her journey to the limelight, and success tips for persons living with disabilities.

Can we meet you?

 I am Bolaji Eniola Mariam.

Kindly tell us about your background

I am the only child of my parents. I was born and brought up in Ilorin, Kwara State. I grew up without my parents; I was raised by my grandmother and sisters to my late mother. I lost my parents to a car accident when I was 8 years old.

What motivated you to get involved in sports and why the choice of para-badminton?

A swimming coach saw me in the bank and introduced me to sports. He took me to my late coach Rafiu Oyebanji Bello. At first, I chose table tennis, but my late Coach advised me to leave table tennis and focus on para badminton.

What was the toughest challenge you faced in para badminton, and how did you overcome it?

I faced a lot because they don’t really play para badminton in Nigeria, and I did not have strong sponsors to send me to international tournaments. I spoke with people and some press but got no response. But my federation, the Badminton Federation of Nigeria, showed up for me in July last year. They sent me to the Uganda International, and I won, so since then, they have been there for me.

How many editions of the Spanish Para badminton championship have you attended?

I have attended three Spanish Para badminton championships so far.

What is the toughest championship you have ever played in?

The toughest championship I have ever played in was the World Para Badminton Championship in Thailand, where I lost in the quarterfinal.

How do you deal with the pressure of people looking up to you as a professional athlete?

It is not easy because most people think if you go for international tournaments, you get paid very well. I know where to talk and where not to talk because everybody wants to hear from me.

How do you manage being a professional athlete, education, and having a social life?

I stopped school for now, and after the Paralympics, I’ll go to school. So I have 100 percent time for my career. I don’t have friends that go out, so I don’t also go out.

What would you have done or become if you were not involved in para badminton?

I would like to become a graphic designer.

What is your target for the Paralympics?

My target for the Paralympics is to win the gold medal.

Can you briefly mention other international championships you have attended?

I have attended the Uganda International Para Badminton Championship, All Africa Para Badminton Championship, Dubai International Championship, Egypt International Championship, Para Badminton World Championship in Thailand, and Spanish Para Badminton International Championship three times.

Do you think the Nigerian government is doing enough for Para athletes?

They are trying, but you know most professional para athletes are not in Nigeria anymore. I don’t actually know, but I think training with white people makes us improve.

How can Nigeria do more to help athletes with disabilities participate in sports?

There are many people with disabilities around the street. Seriously, I don’t know, but I think if the government can come up with a program for people with disabilities and talk to them about sport and make examples of great people with disabilities, by that, it will be better.

What is the one thing you want people to learn from your experience and journey as an athlete?

To never give up and chase their mind believes in themselves.

You have said that Paralympics remain your ultimate target; what other targets do you have in life?

No target for now other than that.

What will be your advice to other para athletes in Nigeria and persons living with disabilities?

My advice is for parents that are keeping their child with disabilities; they should please bring them out. They should keep pushing. I think major obstacles are money, accommodations, and many other things. If they can seek help, that’s how they can overcome it.

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