LEXINGTON, Ky. (March 15, 2019) — The University of Kentucky community is celebrating Women’s History Month. Throughout March, UKNow is featuring the women — past and present — on whose shoulders we stand and whose hard work has made our achievements possible. With a combination of fierce resolve and deep compassion, UK women have left indelible marks on our university. Join us as we highlight these #WomenOfUK.
During the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, University of Kentucky alumna Simidele "Simi" Adeagbo made history as Nigeria’s first female skeleton athlete, Africa’s first female skeleton Olympian and the first black female skeleton Olympian. On top of all those accomplishments, Adeagbo is also paving the path for youth who want to be like her.
Adeagbo was born in Toronto to Nigerian parents and lived in Nigeria for several years as a child, later growing up between the U.S. and Canada. She eventually made her way to UK. While earning her journalism degree here in the early 2000s, Adeagbo was also breaking records on the UK Track and Field team. She was a four time All-American and remains the outdoor school record holder in the triple jump. She was also an Academic All-American and Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar, and an NCAA and Southeastern Conference scorer. Adeagbo is also a sport and social justice advocate as well as a business leader at Nike Inc.
"It feels amazing to be an Olympian, but this journey is about the bigger significance of what I'm doing: showing a future generation of athletes what's possible and showing people that it's up to you to create your future."
Her story could arguably be one of the best comebacks in sports. Not only did she come out of a 10-year retirement to compete in the Olympics, but she became one of the best in the world at a sport she mastered in less than six months.
"Why not me, why not now?" is a question the 36-year-old has frequently asked herself. It wasn't a conventional path to the Olympics — but in a way, she had been preparing for this her whole life.
Having earned a journalism degree and a master's degree in communication from UK, she began a new journey working as a marketing manager for Nike in Johannesburg, South Africa.
"I use those skills I learned at UK every day in my job, and to be able to communicate effectively is so important in any field."
While at UK, she says a community of different people around her — track coaches, professors, CATS tutors — helped her navigate being a student and an athlete. She came back to visit that community in 2016 and walked around the transformed campus.
"These banners on campus with different accomplishments stood out to me — everyone on those banners challenged convention or took a risk. They left legacies. That's what I wanted to do."
Adeagbo added to her own legacy when she was selected for the inaugural Obama Foundation Leaders: Africa Program beating out 10,000 applicants for one of the 200 spots available.
The one-year leadership development and civic engagement program trained, supported and connected the 200 young leaders across Africa working in government, civil society and the private sector.
Adeagbo applied for the program to help to continue to instill positive change in her community, country and continent and hoped the program would equip her with the skills needed to make an impact.
“I’m excited to be a member of the first class of the Obama Foundation Leaders: Africa Program. I’ll be learning from and working with an impressive group of young people from across Africa to create local and global change. I’m looking forward to moving the world forward through creating the future that I want to see,” Adeagbo said.
Adeagbo's ultimate goal is to provide access to quality development programs and positive role models in the community while also harnessing the potential of Africa's youth.
Her most recent accomplishment was a leadership and sports masterclass for girls in Nigeria where she used her own experience in athletics to inspire youth, build communities and create social change. Adeagbo hopes to use sports as a basis for the transformation.
In the future, she plans to expand her effect in the community through partnerships with grassroots organizations, whose goals are to make an impact in the lives of girls and youth in Africa.
"Simi already has left quite a legacy here at the school," said Scoobie Ryan, associate director of the School of Journalism and Media in the College of Communication and Information. "She was an outstanding student and a joy to work with. How she managed to excel in our program and in her athletic career amazed and impressed me. While I was surprised to hear from her that she planned to compete in the 2018 Olympics, and in skeleton of all things, I shouldn’t have been. She’s a woman who can do anything once she puts her mind to it."