Most able-bodied men come after women with disabilities because of what they can get from them, not because they love them. I have many friends that have been deceived by able-bodied men. When you go for events and come back with a medal and you get a cash reward, they come after the money.
This happened to me too before I met my husband, who is also a physically-challenged person,” London 2012 Paralympic Games silver medallist, Folashade Oluwafemiayo, told newsmen.
It is the same dilemma several of the country’s top female para-athletes, who spoke with newsmen, have found themselves.
Born in Jos, the Plateau State capital in 1985, Oluwafemiayo began life like any other kid, until she was struck by polio.
Her parents took her for medical treatment in a bid to ensure she didn’t lose her limbs.
However, despite their efforts, their daughter lost both legs and has been confined to a wheelchair ever since.
Oluwafemiayo’s disability didn’t weigh her down, though, and she turned to sports, where she rose to become one of the world’s best para-powerlifters.
In 2012, she won silver in the women’s 75kg category at the London Paralympics, breaking the world record in the process.
She also won gold at the 2012 World Para-Powerlifting Championships in Mexico.
“We are human. Most of us (with disabilities) contracted polio, we were not born this way. I fell sick when I was three, I was taken to the hospital and injected. That was how I became disabled,” Oluwafemiayo said.
Indeed, since making their Paralympics debut in 1992 in Barcelona, Nigeria’s women para-athletes have been amazing winning 37 medals, including breaking and setting several records in the process.
Notable names among the women para-athletes are Lucy Ejike, Ndidi Nwosu, Bose Omolayo, Josephine Orji, Patricia Okafor, Victoria Nneji and Iyabo Ismaila, who all won Paralympic gold medals.
However, despite winning more medals for Nigeria than their able-bodied counterparts, there’s still a widely held wrong perception about people with disabilities in the country, Oluwafemiayo said.
“That was why I determined that the person I was going to get married to would be someone like me so that we could understand each other. There is no able-bodied man that will be faithful, it is very rare,” she added.
The plight of the women is in stark contrast with their fellow male para-athletes, who usually go on to marry and live normal lives, a female para-athlete, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was “used and dumped” by an able-bodied man, said.
“Most men who have same disabilities with us are married to able-bodied women and are doing fine.
“We are humans too and have blood running in our veins, we can satisfy men sexually.
“There was a time I was desperate for an able-bodied man because I wanted to settle down, but I ended up being used and dumped. Since then, I weigh their sincerity before I have anything to do with them.”
Since getting married in 2012, Oluwafemiayo and her husband have one child, who does not have any physical disability.
But Ebere Okpara, a gold medallist at the 2018 Africa Para Powerlifting Championships in Algeria, says most men shy away from women with disabilities because of the notion that they will always give birth to children with disabilities.
“A lot of men who snub us see us like people with leprosy, thinking that when they end up with you, you will give birth to a child with a disability as well, but that is not true. That’s why female para-athletes prefer to marry their kind,” Okpara said.
“I used to be against such relationships in the past but along the line, I knew why they did it.
“A lot of our para-athletes have kids without fathers, they gave birth out of wedlock. When the men get what they want, they quit. Relationships hardly favour women with disabilities in Nigeria, especially those in sports.”
Esther Nworgu gold medallist in the 41kg category at the 2019 International Para Powerlifting Championships in Lagos says some men sometimes woo physically challenged women just to confirm their curiosity.
“Some men come to us just to confirm if truly we’re women. That’s where we find ourselves.”
Glasgow Commonwealth Games silver medallist, Bose Omolayo, has been married to an able-bodied man for several years, with three children.
Omolayo has been able to perfectly combine household activities as a wife and mother, with her role as an athlete, despite her disability.
For several years, she would wake up at 3:00am every weekday to prepare her three children for school before setting out for work.
The 31-year-old then makes her way to the National Stadium in Surulere, Lagos by 5:00am for training in powerlifting from her Gberigbe, Ikorodu home, about 35 kilometres away.
She did this for 12 years, before the stadium was closed earlier this year following the coronavirus outbreak and the subsequent renovation of the dilapidated arena.
She’s a rare breed, indeed.
Omolayo believes her case is enough to convince any doubting man that para-athletes can also live normal married lives, as well as give birth to kids without disabilities.
She said, “An able-bodied man took a chance on me and we got married. My three children don’t have disabilities and we are happy.
“Marrying someone with a disability will not make your child have a disability. The condition is not transferable, and you can’t infect your children.
“Definitely, people will talk, family and friends will kick against it, but I think the men should stand their ground.”
Omolayo’s husband, Sunday, a prophet in the Celestial Church of Christ, said despite initial resistance from family and friends, he went on to propose to and marry the Paralympics star.
“I experienced all sorts of things from family and friends when I began this journey with my wife, but I was focused; this is the woman I wanted to be with,” he said.
He confirmed that some other men took advantage of para-athletes because of their global achievements.
Sunday stated, “I know several people that have cajoled physically-challenged ladies because they are international stars, just to steal from them.
“But I met my wife before she started sports; before she became a star. I didn’t marry her because of her achievements.
“I opened a hairdressing salon for her in Surulere, Lagos and it was another physically-challenged lady that came to make her hair that proposed the sport to her and I supported it.”
He added, “I spent a lot on her training for several years, but we are reaping it as a family.
“She previously won medals for Ogun State but didn’t get a dime for her efforts, so, I changed her state to Delta and since then we’ve been enjoying it financially. She’s gone to countries she never dreamt of and we are all very happy.”
Irrespective of the conditions they’ve found themselves, these special women, whose hearts are often made of steel, have not given up, and have continually found a path to global stardom, with or without an able-bodied partner.