By Fred Edoreh
She was born with achondroplasia, growing up to just about 1.25 meters tall. A bit derogatorily, society refers to them as dwarfs and, in Africa and perhaps some other parts of the world, they are not given their rightful place.
Unaware that short stature is not a disease, only a condition of birth, and that their intelligence is normal, even high, some communities and parents do not bother to send them to school because, often times, they are discriminated against, both in work and social life. Such was the world into which Lauritta Onye was born.
But, we had seen short statures in two worlds. In Nigeria, King Pago was popular in Sir Victor Uwaifo’s music band, though only for the fun with which he was made in stage performances while he also played the maraca. From another clime came Danny DeVito. He had a leading role alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in the award winning film, Twins. The chart burster with a budget of $31m quickly netted about $218m on release and DeVito lived among the rich and famous in Florida.
Determined not to be confined to the perception of society, Lauritta left her Ikeduru home in Imo State in search of those possibilities and opportunities for a better life.
She landed in Lagos at the time the Nigerian film industry, Nollywood, began to cast a few persons of short stature into their films but they were also only given “waka pass” roles and merely used for fun.
Lauritta got one role in the film, Lords of Money, under the name Laury White, but given the inconsequence of such engagement for career progress and financial rewards, she couldn’t be fulfilled and her spirit kept stretching out to reach to greater heights.
Then she discovered sports. In 2007, it was announced that the All Africa Games would include events for persons of short stature under the disability sports category. Lauritta came to the National Stadium, Lagos, to seek opportunity in the process. She trained hard in the throws and was invited into the national team. Unfortunately, their inclusion in the games was cancelled at the last moment by the hosts.
Her disappointment can only best be imagined but as fate would have it, she had fallen in love with sports and continued training even if only for the fun. Many of her colleagues pulled out.
Her world opened up in 2011 when her event was included in the next All Africa Games in Maputo, this time for real. She attended and finished with silver in shot put.
Fired on from there, she trained for the 2015 African Championships where she hit gold in shot put, with a world record of 7.59 metres, and silver in discus throw.
Matching on, she proceeded to the Doha 2015 International Paralympic Championships to not only win the only medal for Nigeria but to increase her world record to 7.72 metres. Her closest rival was Lara Bears of The Netherlands who threw 6.80 metres which in itself was a European record.
On her return from Doha, the Nigerian society played a trick on her. Muhammadu Buhari had just been elected President and one of his first engagements with the sports community was to reward athletes and coaches who had brought glory to Nigeria in international events, including members of the 1985 national team that won the first FIFA U16 World Cup in China.
Curiously, Lauritta and her coach, Patrick Anaeto, were not invited to the party nor given neither recognition nor reward.
Lauritta was saddened with the disregard. It could have discouraged her from further involvement in sports but she was in love and also has great mental strength and resilience.
Besides, the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games was only a year ahead and she knew better than to pine away the opportunity to be at the world stage with the bitterness of her maltreatment.
Only a few persons would know what it takes for an unpaid athlete to keep training morning and evening, every day, week in week out for months and years. The burden is not only in transportation to and from the training ground but as well as in feeding, personal upkeep and sundry financial needs. Despite these hardships, she stood her ground and qualified for the 2016 Paralympic Games.
She arrived Rio to meet a galaxy of star contenders for the gold in her sport. Among them was Tunisia’s Rima Abdelli whose pre-games performances that year and good training conditions, welfare provision, equipment and instructors made her the favourite for the gold.
Lauritta took all the tensions and apprehensions in her stride. When she stepped forward for her throw, she increased her world record from the 7.72 metres she posted in Doha in 2015 to 8.4m in Rio. Rima had to settle for silver.
In the celebration of her victory, Lauritta left an unforgettable excitement in the games with her dance steps, catwalks, summersaults and friendly gestures as she flew the Nigerian green-white-green right in the centre of the world stage.
The Brazilian spectators aptly described her as “the dancing queen” and that moment has been captured as an iconic advertisement of the Paralympic spirit, an inspiration for all persons with disability, not only in sports.
Curiously again, it was reported that when the Paralympic team returned from Rio, her home state government, Imo, showered the medalists from there with cash and car gifts but Lauritta was excluded, for the reason that she resides in Lagos.
But, she is never to be daunted. Today, Lauritta is back in camp preparing hard to make Nigeria proud again at the forthcoming Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games and the world can expect another glorious offering from her buoyant spirit.