Poverty over for sports festival heroine, Okpochini

Deborah Okpochini of Delta State displays the nine gold medals she won at the on-going 19th National Sports Festival in Abuja

• Wins Nine Gold Medals, Pockets Okowa’s N9 Million
Twenty-two-year old Deborah Okpochini, who won nine gold medals in the on-going 19th National Sports Festival, says poverty is over in her family, if Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa makes good his promise of rewarding each gold medalist with N1 million.

Okpochini, a National Diploma (ND) certificate holder in Banking and Finance from Delta State Polytechnic, Ozoro, said she would invest part of the money to further her education by the time she receives her N9 million reward from Okowa.

“I will further my education to university degree level, and boost my mother’s business,” Okpochini told The Guardian yesterday. “My mother is a widow and a petty trader, and with good money added to her trading, I know she will make her business boom and move to a greater level. And I believe that will relieve her of the hardship she has been going through since my father died.

Delta has a way of producing big stars at the National Sports Festival, particularly in swimming. At Abuja 2004 edition of the fiesta, Blessing Forcados emerged the star athlete after winning seven gold medals. At KADA 2009 edition of the festival, another Delta State swimmer, Temisan Namine emerged hero, winning 11 gold medals.

This time around, Deborah Okpochini, who hails from Ubiaruku in Delta State is the center of attraction at the sports festival with nine gold. She said: “My mother has been singlehandedly catering for seven of us through her petty trading. I have elder brothers and sisters as well as two siblings, whose education is important for their brighter future.”

Okpochini has set her eyes on the Commonwealth and Olympic Games saying that she would work hard to get recognition on the medal podium as the first Nigerian to achieve the feat.

She recalled: “My first major outing was during Eko 2012 National Sports Festival in Lagos, where I won two silver and a bronze medals. After the festival, I said to myself that the other ladies that won several medals have same head like me. And that spurred me on to work harder in my training that fetched me these gold medals (displaying the gold medals) in Abuja.

Okpochini, who is the fifth in a family of seven, erased three Festival records, including two that have been in existence for 27 years. The third is 12 years in the women Freestyle.

In her first dive into the Olympic sized pool at the Abuja National Stadium for the 100 metres Freestyle women, Okpochini completed it in 1:03.05 to retire the 27-year old record of 1:03.72 set by Ikaghoemi Joshua at Bauchi 1991.

In the 1,500m Freestyle women, the Delta State swimmer clocked 21:05.10 to erase the 12-year old record of 21:26.88 held by Blessing Forcados. In the 200m Freestyle women, again, she erased the old time of 2:22.43 held by Joshua, when she posted 2:20.28 for the Festival new record. The national record of 2:16.73 is still being held by Joshua since 1991.

“The national marks in those events are achievable. In 2012, no one knew I could swim to win a gold medal, and here I am with none gold medals. All that is required is hard work and discipline. My target is to be decorated with the Commonwealth and Olympic Games medals. I know such medals are not easy to come by, but with real hard work and dedication, it is achievable.”

Okpochini added that her efforts would be concentrated in her favourite event, the stroke – freestyle.

According to her, good exposure would enhance realising her dreams of winning medal at the Commonwealth and Olympic Games. “I doubt achieving the mark if the number of competition available is restricted to just one in 15 months.

“With constant competitions, both national and African marks would be achieved. At this point, it would be ideal for the corporate organisations to contribute in the development of swimming for us to grow. Without regular competitions, all training would be zero, even if the world best swimming coach is assigned to handle the swimmers.”

She pointed out that her state and national coaches would have big roles to play in achieving the set goals.

Okpochini is praying for the fulfillment of the one gold medal, N1 million promise made by Governor Okowa to enable her realise her dreams of good education and saying goodbye to poverty.

“If I am able to boost my mother’s trading thus taking her out of poverty, and fund my education and that of my brothers and sisters, that would be the best development for my family. I will not listen to anyone who will advise that I should buy a car for my leisure,” Okpochini stated.

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