11 December 2018

Nigeria: At 2018 National Sports Festival, Age Is No Barrier As Six and 56-Year-Old Athletes Compete

They are both 50 years apart, but their goals are the same: to win medals at the 2018 National Sports Festival.

Welcome to the world of six-year-old Deborah Quickpen and 56-year old Taofeeq Maya, the youngest and oldest of the athletes competing at the ongoing National Sports Festival.

Deborah was barely six months old when the last edition of the National Sports Festival was held in Lagos in 2012.

Six years down the line, one would expect her to have a litany of dolls with different names and other playing toys just like her peers.

While the little girl is indeed 'playing', she is doing that at Nigeria's biggest multi-sports competition, the NSF, where she is vying for honours with those even older than her parents.

Debby, as she is fondly called, has been registered to feature for Bayelsa State in the Chess event at the ongoing 19th National Sports Festival in Abuja and she is very ambitious, despite her tender age.

"I started playing (scrabble) when I was two years old," Debby told PREMIUM TIMES, in the company of her mum, Verazini Quickpen, who is also competing in the Scrabble event of the National Sports Festival.

Mrs Quickpen gave more insight into how her daughter developed a liking for the mind games quite early in life when her age mates are preoccupied with toys and dolls.

"Actually, we as Scrabble players; my husband and I. Each time we go to the sports complex to train, we go with our daughter, Debby, and she started learning from there by arranging the words," her mum said.

Debby and Mum

"Sometimes she makes mistakes and we correct her. To even our own surprise we just discovered that when Chess players are playing she goes there and stand and watch them closely, we did not know she was grabbing something. In a short space of time, she started setting the chess board and making moves. I don't even know how to play Chess."

Breakthrough

Debby's mum recollects that at about 3-4 years, her daughter had her first invitation to a tournament and even though she did not win any of her games except the walkover she had, she showed tremendous potentials that endeared her to many.

Things got better for Debby in her second tournament which was a monthly competition where she defeated an older opponent and sent everyone into wild jubilation, including her proud mum.

"Everyone was asking the man Debby beat 'how did this girl checkmate you', but the man said he was surprised and had no answer.

Since then it has been an upward movement for Debby who narrowly missed out on a prize when she represented Bayelsa State in a Chess tournament in Lagos and went on to win a bronze medal at Youth Games in Ilorin.

Presently in Grade 3, Debby says she is enjoying all the support she is getting and would want to leave Abuja with a medal round her neck.

"Yes, my parents have been supporting me, my target is to win a medal and I will try my best" Debby told PREMIUM TIMES when asked of her target at her maiden National Sports Festival.

The old also dream

While the peculiar case of Debby catches the fancy of many, there is another testament to the fact that age is not a barrier for anyone as well demonstrated by 56-year old Toafeeq Maya who is doing his thing at the table tennis event of the Sports Festival.

Taofeeq Maya

Maya hugged the headlines when he inspired Team Oyo to a shock win over Akwa Ibom State in the mixed double event.

Segun Toriola and Funke Oshoniake (combine 13-time Olympians) were sent packing by the splendid display of Maya and his teammate, Fumilola.

The 56-year also told PREMIUM TIMES why he opted to play in NSF 2018.

He said: I have retired but I just told myself I have nothing to lose to come here. It's like since 2001 that I last made it to the National camp, I just said I should prove my worth to these young ones that is why I am here. I have been coming to the sports festival since 1989 and I won gold even back then."

On his return, Maya has not lessened his expectations.

He said: "The target is still gold, I am not under any pressure like most of the other players, I am not interested in being invited to any national camp, I just want to play my game and move on.'

Aside from the Mixed Doubles' where he masterminded the exit of Toriola and Oshonaike, 56-year old Maya is eyeing gold medals in the Singles', Doubles' and Team events.

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