Wrestling started as trying out something different for Sunmisola Balogun, but the 18-year-old has developed passion and love for the combat sport; and in return can smile anytime she looks at her filled trophy cabinet.
Speaking with Sports Extra, the Ondo State-born wrestler said she was into gymnastics, until coach Purity Akuh saw the talent in her when she was in Primary 5, aged 10, and encouraged her to switch to wrestling.
“We (with Purity) train in the same gym then; I didn’t have any interest in wrestling because I was into gymnastics, that was around 2009. We went for the Ogun State Sports Festival and coach Purity needed someone to wrestle for him in the 30kg weight category and I decided to wrestle. I fought and won gold. When we got back to the Ondo State gym, I became courageous as he continued to support and encourage me.”
Just like every other athlete, winning a medal was a propelling force for Balogun, and she never looked back, winning the 2018 African Cadet Championship in Port Harcourt, the African Youth Games in Algeria and also at the African Games in Rabat this year.
She was also at the fourth Youth Olympics Games in Argentina.
“I was into gymnastics for two years and didn’t win any medal. It was wrestling that gave me my first medal and I have won many more ever since. The feats made me realise I can even win more medals.
“I am presently African Champion both junior and senior categories in the 55kg. I also came fourth in the 2018 Youth Olympics. I am also ranked 12th in the world.”
The major motivating factor for Balogun has been the opportunity to train with champions who have carried her under their wings like an eagle and helped her fly. This according to her has been one of the best things to happen to her.
This she said has further pushed her to try and surpass the achievements of these role models which is to win an Olympic gold medal in the sport.
“I train with Odunayo Adekuroye and Adeniyi Aminat and they encourage me a lot because I believe training with champions will also make me a champion. And more importantly, my coach has been crucial to my progress. I have the best coach in the world.
“My aim is to become the first Nigerian wrestler to win an Olympic Gold. I also want to become the World’s No. 1.”
Sports for most parents have never been the first option, and Balogun’s case was not an exception.
She said, “I had lots of challenges when I started wrestling, my mother didn’t want me to go into sports, she wanted me to go to school, it was only my father who supported me when he was alive. But, now, she has given me her support, seeing that I am doing well in the sport.”
One would expect a wrestling champion, who has won many laurels to be a no-nonsense lady.
However, Balogun is the exact opposite.
“Asides fighting in the ring, I don’t like getting involved in trouble, I like being on my own. People think when they offend me, I will beat them up, but I can’t. I took wrestling as a passion and not to pick up fights,” she added.