At the Spanish Para Badminton International 2021 earlier this month, Mariam Eniola Bolaji made history by becoming the first Para shuttler from Africa to win a competition outside the continent.
Her journey to glory however, was not plainsailing – she was shaken by the death of her coach Bello Rafiu Oyebanji just a few weeks before the tournament.
Oyebanji, a triple gold medallist at the African Para Badminton Championships 2018, lost his life in a motor accident on 21 April.
Bolaji immediately dedicated her title to Oyebanji post her final against Ukrainian Oksana Kozyna.
And in a recent interview with the Punch, the teenager revealed how she carried the thoughts of Oyebanji onto the court for every battle in Cartagena.
“I’m very happy to be the first African to achieve this feat,” the 19-year-old said.
“But it was tough prior to the tournament. I went through a lot of difficulties when coach Oyebanji passed on. His death is the inspiration behind my success story.
“(He) will always be my biggest inspiration.”
Bolaji’s success in Spain, which saw her come from a game down to defeat Kozyna 18-21, 21-14, 21-18 in the Standing Lower (SL3) women’s singles final, qualified her to the BWF Para badminton World Championships 2021 in Japan in October.
The BWF Female Grant programme graduate is now keen to build on what she accomplished in Spain.
“I’m hopeful of winning another gold in Japan.”