HURRAH! NIGERIA'S PAT ITANYI WALKS WITH WEST VIRGINIA LEGENDS
Itanyi is the first female track and field athlete to be listed into the WVU achievers' roaster. Also, she is the third woman to be inducted into the Hall of Fame after Georgeann Wells and Cathy Parson both who played basketball.
On October 8, 2011, Itanyi and five others will be honoured and no doubt this is something an athlete will cherish all her life. It is deserving coming to Itanyi who distinguished herself as an athlete and now a coach in same university.
Itanyi spoke this way: 'Hall of Fame is a big thing here in America. It is quite a thrill, a great recognition and a great honour.
'I feel that I have been rewarded for something that I like to do. I give thanks to God. Someone paid for me to come to America to study. This was something my parents couldn't have afforded.
'I feel so honoured going into the Hall of fame. To be included in the same category with famous athletes like Jerry West makes me feel so good. West was a famous basketball player and coach with LA Lakers.' Itanyi was getting emotional and her voice sounded so. She looked back to her beginning in Nigeria and thought about those coming up today.
'This is why I tell the kids coming behind that education is the most important thing they can have. If sports presents to you this kind of opportunity you have to take full advantage of it. Get the education while you do your sports. It is good to have options when you are longer active in sports. Sports has a short life span but education will be there for you. Take the advantage that sports provides. If you have education, you can continue with sports at even a higher level. If you can't, there will be option for you as an educated athlete. I wish that more Nigerians could take to sports.'
Itanyi will become the second Nigerian to enter the WVU sports Hall of Fame. The first was Joe Okhaku, a soccer player who died in 2001.
Itanyi was a real gladiator in the track and field. She was the first ever female track and field national champion at WVU. She established six schools records (four of which are still standing to date) between 1995 and 97. In 1998 Itanyi won the African championships in Dakar, Senegal. This was after coming back from injury, which denied her an appearance at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta' USA.
In 1999 Itanyi narrowly missed the gold at the All Africa Games in Johannesburg. She settled for silver as home girl, Maralize FouchÃ© clinched the gold with 5631 to Itanyi's 5,565 points.
She came back strong in 2000 when she qualified for the Olympics in 2000 with her 5730 points haul in Arles, France (this mark remains the Nigerian national record till date). Itanyi became the first WVU female track and field athlete to go to the Olympics.
After Itanyi reached the full cycle of her competitive athletics career she took to coaching and has been helpful in the grooming of young Nigerian athletes most especially those based in the United States of America.
Itanyi convinced US born Nigerian athletes like Toyin Augusts, Seun Adigun, Selim Nurudeen, Jessica Ohajana, Gloria Asumnu and a long list of others to pledge their allegiance to Nigeria, their fatherland. She acted as liaison officer for the Athletics Federation of Nigeria in the USA during the era of Violet Odogwu Nwajei. But for all her commitments Itanyi is regarded as a gadfly by certain individuals in the administration of Nigerian athletics.
She said: 'This is because of my principle. We must do things the right way. Nigeria was a power house of athletics in Africa. We rubbed shoulders with the rest of the world, we lined up against America, Jamaica, Canada and Britain. But this is not so anymore. This is because we have people who are not well informed on modern day track and field running it. They may mean well but they just can't get it.
'Nobody thinks of the athlete. In my estimation, every official is there because of the athlete. Without the athletes, there will be no federation and no National Sports Commission. So why can't we take the athletes seriously and make them our great ambassadors?
'We've had a lot of Nigerians who passed through the American system. America is the athletics capital of the world. We have been here and seen how things are done, but the question is why can't we take it back to Nigeria?
'Of course some of us are trying, but you run into people in Nigeria who feel that you are a threat to their existence. They think more of themselves and not the athletes. Whe you put the athletes first, you may have problems with them. These people are everywhere in our system.'
This was partly the reason Itanyi failed to attend the last All Africa Games in Maputo, Mozambique. She was listed as a welfare officer. She turned down the offer. She insisted that she should be designated as a coach, not a welfare officer. Many other former Nigerian athletes at home or abroad would have jumped at the offer, at least to be entitled to the allowances that would accrue to them. Not Pat. Here is somebody respected in USA as a coach. She is not accorded same recognition in her own country. And yet most of those picked to coach Nigerian teams do not possess the qualification and ability that she can boast of. But this is the character of the Nigerian system.
Itanyi said: 'It was really funny and I just couldn't come to terms with it. I'm I a welfare officer? I am a qualified coach. I could be welfare officer when I'm no longer coaching, not now.
'Look at the set up in the camp. There wasn't a single female coach and we had female athletes in there. As an athlete I know a lot about what goes on in the camp. We have people coaching but they are not qualified coaches. This is the reason I always speak out and I will continue to speak until things are done the right way. I was told that certain people were glad that I was not in Maputo. This is because they see me as the only coach who can voice out her opinion and condemn some of their ways. It is for the sake of Nigeria and not for my sake,' Itanyi said.
When her name would be announced October 8 in West Virginia, USA, Nigeria will take some accolades too as the country will repeatedly be mentioned. Itanyi deserves the recognition even if Nigerian officials lack the perception to appreciate this.