Chierika Ukogu is gradually becoming a household name in world sports due to her unbelievable yet steady rise to fame at the Rio Olympics.
At just 23, Ukogu wrote her name in the history books as the first Nigerian athlete to compete in the rowing event at the Olympic Games.
She achieved this despite the unpopular nature of the sport – one which has to do with propelling a boat on water using oars – in Nigeria.
But Ukogu was not contented with just making up the numbers at the world’s biggest sporting fiesta, she moved a step further by qualifying for the semi-finals against all odds on Tuesday.
Born in Northeast Philadelphia, United States of America (USA) to migrant Nigerian parents, Ukogu studied at the Stanford University where she was introduced to the sport.
Her journey to Rio was a bumpy one – one synonymous with several other Nigerian athletes.
Ukogu spent several years emailing the Nigerian Rowing and Canoeing Federation to no avail.
Looking back, she says she’s glad they ignored her.
“Their silence pushed me to make bigger commitments to rowing after graduating university. I put my dreams of medical school on hold and I dove headfirst into rowing,” she confessed.
Her dream final came true after coming out tops at the 2015 FISA African Olympic Qualification Regatta to book a ticket to Rio.
Then came the challenge of funding for the event.
She started a GoFundMe campaign after the qualifiers and successfully raised over $12,000 to get herself equipped and transported to Rio, Brazil.
“It is my ultimate goal to be the first Nigerian to row at the Olympic Games,” she said.
“Heading into Rio, it’s a really wonderful opportunity for Nigeria. This is the first time we’ve had an athlete at the Olympics in the sport of Rowing.”
Can the brave young woman known as Coco sustain the tempo to qualify for the finals with the semis scheduled for Wednesday, August 10, 3:30PM (Nigerian time)?
Whatever the outcome, she has already won the heart of many appreciative Nigerians.