Marquette—Nigerian weightlifter Onyeka “Vera” Azike traded sweltering heat for frigid temperatures when she arrived in Marquette to train at the United States Olympic Education Center. The 18-year-old will participate in an eight-month regimen supervised by USOEC coach Andy Tysz. The goal is to prepare her to compete in this summer’s Beijing Olympics.
Azike began weightlifting in 2006, but in a short time frame secured three gold medals at the All-Africa Games in Algiers. It was this success that drew the attention of the Nigerian Olympic Committee.
Since her childhood, Azike’s family has placed a high value on athletics. They always told her, “If you succeed in athletics you will be provided with the opportunity for an education.”
Starting in track and field and not achieving the success she would have liked, she began weightlifting. With the loss of her father in 2003, Azike fought hard to find success. The enjoyment and achievements are what keep her motivated.
Since arriving in January, Azike is still trying to adjust to life in Marquette. She was used to temperatures in Nigeria that fall in the 80-90 degree range, so she does not go outside unless it is necessary.
Teammates took her shopping for long-sleeve apparel more practical for the winter elements. Azike is also adjusting to different food choices, many of which are more sweet or salty than what she’s used to eating. She enjoyed her first meal out – spaghetti – and waffles also have been a favorite.
Training at the USOEC has been an eye-opening experience for Azike.
“My own training is very different from other athletes,” said Azike, who participates in nine practices a week for a total of 18 hours. During her free time, she enjoys watching American films and TV.
Vera hopes to begin taking classes at Northern Michigan University next fall in pursuit of a degree in sports medicine and also to continue training. “I am lucky I found myself here,” she said, adding that she’s eager to send pictures of the snow to family and friends back home.
When asked about her future goals, Azike said, “Weightlifting is not forever.” She hopes to return to Nigeria to start a family and eventually would like to return to the United States.
Azike is one of six Olympic hopefuls chosen by the International Olympic Committee to receive training funded by the Olympic Solidarity Committee. The program is also facilitated by the Nigerian Olympic Committee.
USOEC Media Intern