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A Future Called 'Okon Calabar'

She cannot really explain how the nickname "Okon Calabar stuck. All she knows is that her name is Esther Okon Peter. Friends called her "Okon Lagos in school. In 2014, she was part of the "champions that Mobil Producing Nigeria took to Calabar to hone and develop their skills on the tartan tracks of U. J. Esuene Stadium (The Nest of Champions was still under construction then). In Calabar, she reminded her friends that she was not in "Lagos but Calabar and quickly, her nickname was changed from "Okon Lagos to "Okon Calabar. Surprisingly the nickname gathered momentum, so much that even the officials, when calling her out for events, added "Okon Calabar to her name. Last weekend, the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN), after the AFN All Comers that held in Akure named Esther Okon as athlete of the week. Celebrating her 200 meters overall fastest time of 23.82 seconds.

The story of Esther Okon is that of courage and determination personified. No, I don't want to go back to her early beginnings... the Mobil/NNPC track and field championships that saw her shining endlessly as the star athlete in the Eket contingent, winning the sprints effortlessly and going on to anchor her LGA to victory in relays. Since then, it has been her determination to make it to the top, representing the country at junior level variously, while not losing sight of furthering her education. Just last year, Esther was in Asaba for an invitational, only to pick up an injury that threatened her future on the tracks... then came a "savior called Gabriel Okon. The star ex-international and national coach quickly invited her to Abuja where facilities for her rehabilitation exist at the national training centres. In less than two months, Esther is back on the tracks and creating waves. During the Akure All Comers, a page in the "making of champions ran thus: "Esther Okon ran the fastest time overall in the women 200 metres heats (23.82s) breezing past Godbless Tom (24.32) to win heat 4, Praise Idamadudu was the second fastest overall, also going under 24.5s to win heat 5 in 23.95s. Joy Udo Gabriel was 3rd fastest overall winning heat 6 in 23.39s . The page was to also comment on the 100m women, Esther Okon ran the fastest time of all 7 heats, holding off Balikas Yakubu in the last 10m to win heat 4 with a season best of 11.80s not far from her Personal Best (PB) of 11.79s. Yakubu finished second in 11.84s and Olayinka Olajide third in 11.94s. At the finals, Esther won the 200 metres and placed 3rd in 100 metres. A credible and hope assured result. Esther was not alone in Akure. Imaobong Uko, just like she did in Asaba last time out, won the 400 metres Unlike , the feat of Imaobong is a given. After winning three gold medals at the Youth Games in Ilorin, Imabong went to the National Sports Festival in Abuja, just 14 and dusted all comers, including those transported from abroad with the benefits of superior training and infrastructure. Her festival time of 52.36 seconds in the 400 metres remains the world best at her age. Imaobong can only make news today, if she does not win! Esther Osisike and Utitofon James grabbed the gold and silver medals in the Discuss women, projecting Akwa Ibom as the most successful at the All Comers which is a prominent feature in the AFN Calendar, put together to keep Nigeria's athletes in shape for national, continental and world competitions. Esther, Imaobong, Comfort James (student of Physical and Health Education, University of Uyo, who missed Akure because of her exams) are just a few of the abundant prospects we have going into the Festival later in the month. Let me attempt to single out a few 1.Consider Ekanem 100/200m 2. Hanson Dianabasi 100m/relays 3. Edidiong Udo 800/4x4 4.Comfort James 800/1500 5. Edidiong Udotong 4 x 4 6. Nsikak Francis 400/4x4 7. Success Durazo 400/4x4 8. Uwak Mfon Ituen 400 9. Ekikere Frank 100 Everyday, coach Daniel Umoette Tom leads this pack of young and promising athletes to run and work out on the impeccable tracks of the Nest of Champions. Everyday assisted by coaches Patrick Patrick Awagha and Unyime Umoh, the young and dynamic coach is so fired by the belief that Akwa Ibom will be the state to look out for at the Edo Festival this year. This view is shared and fortified by Gabriel Okon, the unofficial consultant to the Akwa Ibom track and field Association and indeed the State, national coach and track and field guru. As you are reading this, Gabriel must have landed Uyo to coordinate the last lap of preparations for the festival. "I like coach Umoette. He is very passionate about his job and does not allow challenges to deter him. I send programmes to him and he follows them religiously. Gabriel adds that with proper handling, determination and motivation, Akwa Ibom will be the team to beat at the National Sports Festival. On Esther Okon, he said he just had to step in "... I had to. She is a potential, a future star, one of those that will bring glory to our state and it would have been disastrous not to arrest the situation at the time we did. The Udom Emmanuel administration has brought in a new lease of life to sports in Akwa Ibom State. It is the dream of His Excellency that this state should be in the forefront of producing stars who will not only go on to represent the country, but emerge as world beaters. The interpreter of the governor's dreams, the workaholic sport commissioner, Sir Monday Ebong Uko is presently putting finishing touches to the Uyo Township Stadium even as the Eket Stadium is nearing completion with the tartan field in place. Provision of adequate infrastructure, no doubt, goes a long way in boasting the potentials available to us. Potentials that were discovered in the main during the state Youth Sports Festival that brought together over 10,000 youths from all over the state to Uyo and the dividends have been enormous, going forward. Time there was, when we normally travelled to Calabar to make use of tracks, swimming pools etc at a great cost. Today, the facilities at the Nest of Champions are second to none. Another salutary development is the hunger for education by the athletes. Esther has just gained admission to study Business administration at Akwa Ibom State Polytechnic, Ikot Osurua, Uwakmfon is in Heritage Polytechnic, Edidiong Udoh, University of Port Harcourt, like Comfort before them, they are determined to mix their passion with education because "...one day I will not be able to run again and will fall back on my education to make ends meet... This story on track and field is indeed that of other sports in the state. Can't wait for the sports festival to commence. Till next week, by His grace.

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