Bayelsa swimmer Ifiaezibe Gagbe was the star of the Edo 2020 National Sports Festival, winning 15 medals. In this interview with EBENEZER BAJELA, she opens up on her personal life, the journey to stardom, her desire to become an Olympian and more
You won 15 medals at the recent National Sports Festival. What’s the secret?
The secret is God and hard work. I trained very hard and when you know what you are going for, you stay focus and you fight for it. To be candid with you, there is nothing more to my success than training.
Winning eight gold medals is an amazing feat. How do you feel?
I feel so happy and it’s like I’m the only one that came for the competition. Words can’t actually describe the way I feel.
What’s on your mind after your 15-medal feat?
It’s all about the money because the last Governor of Bayelsa State paid N1m for a gold medal. The current Governor has not told us what he will pay, but he told us we should go to Benin City, win gold and see what he will reward us with. I know it will be better than the last one and I’m already thinking about the money. It’s the money that made me put in much effort and what that means is that I’m N8m richer, excluding the silver and bronze medals.
When did you start swimming?
I grew up by the riverside, so I can say I started swimming as a child but professionally it was in 2002. That was when I also participated in the age group competition in Ilorin. I was 12 years old then.
How have you been able to combine swimming and education?
I’m writing my project at the moment, which means that I have enough time to train very well and still come back to class to read. But the truth is that it’s very hard to combine both because there are times when I tried to open my books and read, but I start sleeping. When I wake up I have pains all over my body from the training, but I just have to manage and read because that is also important to my career. Swimming is something I enjoy doing and I can’t go back on it and we are seeing the result already.
Going back to school now, how do you hope to manage the success at Edo 2020?
This is not my first time going to competitions, although this one is different. I was at the West Africa University Games and other competitions in the past. What I do is stay back at home and relax for one week after every major tournament, and try to stay calm until everything settles down before coming out.
Do you have a boyfriend?
No, I don’t have a boyfriend at the moment, but I was once married. That was in 2015 but we divorced in 2018. I went to the Abuja 2018 National Sports Festival with that trauma because he didn’t want me to go back to my sport. I had a baby and my weight was too much for me to return to swimming and I struggled. He was against me swimming again, but I went back to doing it and we had some issues after that, which led to our divorce. I went to the 2018 festival with a lot of trauma and I won 14 silver medals, I didn’t win any gold. I was so angry because I am a golden girl. So, this time, with my mind settled, I came to Edo and became the golden girl that I am.
Did the issues you had with your ex-husband have anything to do with your sporting career?
It had nothing to do with my career. I am a worker in the Bayelsa State Sports Council and at that time, I wasn’t thinking of returning to swimming because I weighed 90kg then and nobody believed that I would be able to return to swimming because of my baby. He (ex-husband) asked me to go for a coaching course, which I did. He supported my career but our divorce was as a result of other issues which were not related to my sporting career.
How much time do you have for your child, knowing that you work, go to school and compete as an athlete?
My daughter is four years now and I do make out time for her. I pick her up from school. Sometimes, she comes to training with me. We are usually together and she loves water too. Many times she will beg me to go and swim and sometimes I have to tell her to wait till the next day.
So, how soon are we going to see her swim at national level?
You will definitely be seeing another brightness in the nearest future. Brightness is her name and she will definitely swim because she loves it so much. She always wants to stay in the water all day but I have to ensure she does her assignments.
Knowing that you are single, a lot of guys might be wooing you. How are you managing this?
I honestly don’t know, but I know I have to settle down again because I need another baby. Maybe when I see a guy who looks responsible I will give it a thought because there is no harm in trying.
How easy has it been staying alone without a man?
I must confess it has not been easy, but I tried not to get too worried because I like swimming. Whenever I have something troubling my mind, I just dive inside the water and start swimming to ease my pains. When I see that I’m doing well in training, it gives me joy because I know that I have hope tomorrow. That’s what actually keeps me going.
There is this widely held belief that sex affects the performances of athletes. Is not having a man a plus for you in terms of your performances?
Being without a man and not having sex has helped me a lot, but sometimes it’s not because of sex that athletes don’t perform. It has to do with how hard they train because that is the key to every success in life. When you have sex and you train hard, you can still perform at your best but everything still has to be done in moderation.https://788cbb00a7e57c78ae84f25137814e85.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
Taking a look at your achievement, how would you describe the journey so far?
I am someone who doesn’t accept defeat. If I’m going for a competition and I don’t train, I won’t bother competing. If you see me in any competition, know that I’m coming for something serious. So, I would say that the journey has been good.
They say all that glitters is not gold. What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered as an athlete?
The number one challenge I have is that government is not encouraging swimming in the country. There was no competition for swimmers in the last one year before the sports festival. The last competition we had was in 2016, the Chief of Naval Staff event. That was the only competition we had, but since they stopped it in 2016, all we have now is the sports festival. Sometimes, we train and don’t even know where we are going to. The challenges are much, you need to see the pools in my state, they are very bad and even to get money to buy chemical to treat the pools for us to train is a big problem. The water is green, but we still put our heads inside because we know what we are going for.
What do you think is the way forward?
Good management and support from the government is the way forward. We need them to encourage the athletes, no matter what. It doesn’t matter whether we win at the festival or not, we need to be encouraged. For the athletes that didn’t win any medal at the festival, they need support because if they don’t get that now, how do you expect them to perform better in the coming events?
What’s your next plan after your sports festival feat ?
My next target and dream is to compete at the Olympic Games because I have not been there. At least let my name Ifiaezibe Gagbe have the title of an Olympian. I see that happening very soon by the grace of God.