GUEST Column by Paul Ejime
As humans, we crave, pray and work for success in life. It is only normal and rational. Yet life is incomplete without failure, missed opportunities and adversities.
So, the secret to success in life is not to pretend or assume that there is a bump-free ride. Rather, good counsel dictates that we prepare to take on adversities as they come. Indeed, to succeed in life, we must not only learn but be prepared to fail. Success at one stage in life does not necessarily guarantee excellence the next time or always. We must transform failure or defeat into an opportunity or catalyst to success. There is no “permanent success,” just like no champion lasts forever. In other words, a winner must be humble and prepared to swallow the bitter bill of defeat.
World champions such as the legendary boxer Muhammad Ali suffered several knockdowns in their illustrious careers. Given that there is a very thin line between victory and defeat, what counts is not how many times we fall, but our ability to rise and finish the race/fight with victory as the ultimate goal.
We have seen empires rise and fall. Few nations have survived the devastation of a civil war. Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria are some of them. Rwanda has risen from the ashes of 1994 genocide to become one of the World’s fastest growing economies. So, it is possible to rise from a knockdown and turn defeat into victory.
In this special season of Christmas, with the year 2019 drawing to a close and as we look forward to the dawn and blessings of 2020, I wish to remind us of how some individuals, especially sportspeople, have bounced back from adversities, particularly after they had been written off.
One can never forget the story of Nigeria’s lanky lad, Kanu Nwankwo, one of Africa’s most decorated footballers to date. After a stint with Iwuanyanwu Nationale of Owerri, south-eastern Nigeria, Kanu, who also played for Nigeria’s national teams at Under-17, Under-23 and senior level, moved to Europe for better career prospects.
He played and won laurels with Dutch club Ajax, Inter Milan of Italy and English clubs Arsenal, West Bromwich Albion and Portsmouth. Kanu won most of the prestigious soccer titles available – the EUFA Champions League, EUFA Cup, FA Cups, National Leagues and was voted the African Footballer of the Year twice (1996 and 1999) before he finally retired in 2012 after a career that spanned two decades.
But Kanu’s story would be incomplete without his life- and career-threatening event of 1996. After he had captained the Nigerian team to become the first African side to win the Olympic gold in Atlanta, U.S.A. that year, Kanu wanted to change clubs from Ajax to Inter Milan, only for Italian medical doctors to diagnose him with a lethal heart condition. With a “hole in the heart,” many thought it was all over for young Kanu. But he persevered and underwent a major surgery to replace an aortic valve in November 1996 and only returned to his club in April 1997. From Inter Milan Kanu later moved to Arsenal in 1999 and revived his career winning the African Footballer of the Year for the second time that year.
Indeed, Kanu is a proud member of Arsenal’s “Invincible” team that finished the 2003-2004 English football League season undefeated and has since set up a Foundation for African children with heart defects, as a reminder and legacy after what he went through himself.
American and World golf icon Eldrick Tont “Tiger” Woods is another eloquent testimony to the rejection of a knockdown as a knockout. After an outstanding amateur golf career, Woods turned professional in 1996 at the age of 20 and became the top-ranked golfer in the world from August 1999 to September 2004, and again from June 2005 to October 2010, winning 13 major championships.
But Woods was forced into a self-imposed leave from the sport he loved and excelled in from December 2009 to April 2010, to resolve pressing marital issues, and consequently fell to number 58 in the world rankings in November 2011. He rose to the No.1 ranking again between March 2013 and May 2014. However, ‘knockdowns’ from injuries and personal worries saw Woods, who once held numerous golf records, drop off the list of the world’s top 1,000 golfers. But with perseverance, he returned to regular competition, and went on to win his first tournament in five years in September 2018 and his first major tournament in 11 years at the 2019 Masters!
Another glaring demonstration of the saying that “quitters don’t win and winners don’t quit,” is Nigerian-born British Heavyweight boxing champion Anthony Oluwafemi Joshua, OBE. At 30, Joshua is a two-time unified heavyweight champion, with the WBA (Super), IBF, WBO, and IBO titles since December 2019 and previously between 2016 and June 2019.
June 2019 marked a watershed in the career of Joshua, a 2012 Olympic gold medallist, who only turned professional in 2013 and was named Prospect of the Year by The Ring Magazine in 2014. Joshua was knocked down and “temporarily” knocked out of boxing by lesser-known Andy Ruiz, Jr. of Mexico in an unforgettable titles’ defence fight held in the United States that month.
The boxing world was in shock and from the nature of that crushing defeat; many pundits thought it was all over for Anthony Joshua. But in a phenomenal rematch on 7th December 2019 in Saudi Arabia, Joshua, using the “stick and move” tactic to devastating effects, reclaimed his titles from Andy Ruiz. The great boxer learnt the hard lessons of defeat, and now boasts a boxing record of 24 fights with 23 wins, including 21 that ended inside the distance, and that sole loss to Ruiz.
In one of his several post-fight interviews, Joshua, exuding an unmatchable sentiment of not allowing a knockdown to become a knockout declared: “I’m a man that has made mistakes and when I was on a losing path in life, I matured and bounced back.”
Dear family and friends, as 2019 comes to an end, let us count our blessings, learn from our mistakes and never give up. Let us imbibe the never-say-die attitude, which will enable us to rise from whatever fall or knockdown and forge ahead! In spite of adversities, we have every reason to thank God. Life is not all about success, victory, accomplishment or possession. It is about making a difference; it is about the impact we leave on others.
As we celebrate, whether as champions, spectators or supporters, we also have a duty to encourage and help the vanquished, the defeated to rise. As Ernest Okonkwo, a renowned Nigerian sports commentator of blessed memory used to advise: “When you cheer your (football) team when it scores a goal, you are merely reacting to an event. But when you continuously cheer the team even when no goal is scored or when the team is losing, you are motivating (a positive) action.”
We are in a World where change is constant and no condition is permanent. This demands introspection on our part. We must remain thankful and supportive, humble and keep hope alive, bearing in mind that a knockdown is not necessarily a knockout and that the defeated today can become a champion tomorrow!
Happy & Prosperous New Year to All!
*Paul Ejime is an International Media and Communications Specialist.