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Sarah Ogoke Jan 30, 2024 5:35:07 PM 6 min read

Training for the Olympics as a Fourth Year Medical School Student

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Source: Sarah Ogoke

On February 8th, 2024, my team Nigeria will be playing against Senegal in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Antwerp, Belgium in the biggest game of my 21-year-career playing organized basketball. The winner of this game will likely collect 1 of three direct qualification tickets to the Paris 2024 Olympics.

 

While I'm preoccupied with this huge sports event, add that in less than three weeks I’ll find out if I passed the Part 2 American Podiatric Medical Licensing Exam (APMLE), and in one week I’ll be interviewing for surgical residency positions to get my first job as a doctor. No pressure, right?

 

I am a 4th year Podiatric medical school student in New York City, and the team captain of the Nigerian senior female national basketball team and we are headed (hopefully) to the Olympics.

In the next few months there is a lot on the line, and to avoid disappointing the 220+ million people of Africa’s most populous nation (Nigeria), execution is absolutely essential. The first step is to secure the Olympic ticket in February. We have a proven track record to spur us:

 

In August 2023 we won our 4th consecutive African Cup of Nations Championship, with me making history as the first individual to accomplish such a feat, and us making history as the second African country to do so since the Senegal team of the 1980s.

 

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Source: Sarah Ogoke

This made us eligible to compete in this four team FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament where we will play Senegal, the AfroBasket silver medalists (Feb 8th), Team USA, who are the current Olympic and World Cup Champions (Feb 9th), and Belgium, the current Eurobasket Champions (Feb 11th).

Top 3 out of the 4 will go to the Paris Olympics.

Here is what I do to prepare for success in this journey while working full time as a surgeon:

Work can be strenuous, and the typical weekly shift is from 8am-5pm, Monday-Friday with occasional on-call emergencies during the weekend. I set up my training schedule to revolve around weekends to maximize training time and recovery. Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday are my workout days. During the week I get up at 5am to go to the YMCA and do cardio and strength training before getting on the court for basketball specific drills. My boyfriend, who is extremely supportive, comes to the gym to catch rebounds so I can effectively utilize the little time I have.

 

We aim for 30 min of strength and conditioning and 30 min of skill work — a high intensity hour before I head off to the operating room. Once I get to the operating room, I scrub in and proceed under the guidance of the chief surgeon.

 

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Source: Sarah Ogoke

A single day of operations can range from cosmetic bunion correction procedures to life saving amputations due to flesh eating skin infections. Often times, a two-hour procedure can turn into 9 due to complications, and you find yourself not leaving the hospital until 9 or 10pm some days. Because of my unpredictable schedule, when I get in the gym, my focus and intensity is at an elite level. On weekends I train at Fordham University with my personal skills trainer, Kendell Grant, and at Stony Brook University with the Nigeria head women’s coach Rena Wakama. Saturday mornings I compete at an invite only women’s pro run sponsored by New Balance in the Lower East side of New York City. 

 

Working with elite professionals is one of the most efficient ways to maximize time.

 

Mixing case reviews, mock interviews, constant reading, and frequent meetings with classmates and attending physicians into my busy schedule is how I prepared for my board exams and am preparing for my interviews. To add to my list of responsibilities, as the team captain, I am also responsible for the communication with the team as well as serving as a liaison between my colleagues and federation administrators. Additionally, I reach out to the team as needed to address any issues or concerns that the team may have.

 

One of my biggest priorities is helping to establish and maintain our team values, including sisterhood and camaraderie.

 

This is also great and makes for good chemistry amongst the team. I take great pride in being team captain because it also allows me to serve and be a great support to the team not only on the court but more importantly in the success of the ladies off the court as well.

 

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Source: Sarah Ogoke

How do I find gaps in my schedule to travel and compete? My 2023 July and August externship supervisors were very supportive with my basketball schedule and were able to work with me to get the needed off days to compete in AfroBasket. I was thrilled to let them know that their leniency was not in vain as I presented the gold medal. Winning AfroBasket was not easy. Playing in Africa you are not only competing against your opponents but also against peculiar African environmental health issues. In the first half of the competition after beating Congo, I fell ill with malaria and struggled to understand what was happening to my body, but through it all we pulled through and beat Egypt to qualify for the knockout stage. Playing against Mozambique I found ways to get my team more involved because it was a tough game and we advanced to the semifinals.

The Finals was a sold-out event as citizens of the host country, Rwanda, came to watch Nigeria battle with Senegal once again. In the first half I led all scorers with 10 points, finished with 13, and we secured the victory.

 

As we advanced to that championship game, I admit a lot was weighing heavy on my mind. I did not want to disappoint my country people who were very excited about the idea of winning the 4th AfroBasket title in a row.

 

The second thing I was thinking about was not disappointing my team. As a veteran, I’ve been here before and saw the demeanors of the new girls who were still trying to process everything. The last thing I was thinking about was myself and all the sacrifices of friends, family, and school administrators that all supported me which could be in vain if we didn’t succeed at that moment. It was awesome and a huge relief when we won that 4th AfroBasket in a row.

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Source: Sarah Ogoke

In retrospect, I now realized that I was fully prepared for that moment despite my anxiety. Even though it was a tough game, we won. I also broke a personal record for being the only woman in history to win 4 consecutive gold medals for AfroBasket. Although I’m very honored, I know there is still work to be done.

I'm also certain to be prepared for this upcoming challenge. Paris here I come!

 


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Sarah Ogoke

Sarah Ogoke is a Nigerian-American basketball player for Ferroviário de Maputo and the Nigerian national team. She is a four-time AfroBasket champion and currently training for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.