Dennis Ogbe’s passion and joy for life is contagious. He has been called the Man of Steel with a Heart of Gold, and like steel and gold, he gained these qualities through refining fire.
Dennis was a healthy and enthusiastic child, the fourth of 12 in his family. At age three he contracted Malaria and his parents took him to a clinic to receive treatment. A nurse broke a needle in his back, and as a result of the medical error, he was in a coma for three days.
He pulled through the coma, but with a weakened immune system, contracted Polio while still in the hospital. The debilitating disease left him completely paralyzed from the waist down. Other children ridiculed Dennis because he was unable to walk and play. He found one friend in Masai Uriji, who encouraged him to achieve his dreams and who remains a close friend and supporter today.
Masai saw Dennis’ potential and challenged him to learn to walk again. Through sheer determination, Dennis finally regained movement and strength in his right leg, though his left leg remains weakened and partially paralyzed from the disease.
“It was hard growing up for him, but we did have so many good times. We laughed and laughed, and that’s how I remember things,” said Uriji, who is the general manager of the Denver Nuggets. “I have never known anybody as positive as Dennis. He is strong and full of positive thoughts. I think I am strong and driven, but I can honestly say, Dennis is stronger and even more positive than me. There was never any doubt in my mind Dennis would walk, be an athlete, a person who lives life his way.”
In Nigeria, the disabled are often cast away or encouraged to be beggars, but not Dennis. His father wanted him to have a better life, and worked hard to make sure that all of his children had the chance to attend school. Dennis’ father passed away in 2004, but he is still an inspiration to Dennis.
“My late father, Adolphus Adeyi Ogbe, an amazing man and role model, didn’t allow my future challenges alter the way he would raise me,” Dennis said, “He didn’t allow me take to the streets as a shoe-shiner (aka beggar) as many fathers would have, but instead placed me in school at the age of three because he understood education would one day be my savior. He instilled in me that channeling a relentless attitude towards hard work and education would forever prevent boundaries around the wonderful things opportunities could provide. I never once budged on his philosophy, which soon became mine, because self-pity wasn’t an option.”
“I hope to make my late father and family proud that despite my disability I have persevered and I am doing something worthwhile in life,” Dennis said, and many would agree that he is doing just that.
Coaches from Bellarmine University in Lousiville, Ky, noticed Dennis at the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney when he competed for his native country of Nigeria. He came to the United States through a sports scholarship and holds a bachelor’s degree and M.B.A. from Bellarmine. He competed in shot put, discus and javelin at Bellarmine against able-bodied competitors.
Dennis has made a name for himself in the international Paralympic community and holds the American records for discus and shot put throw. Dennis now competes from a special seat, which he calls his “humpty dumpty” chair that allows him stability while throwing.
He has participated in the Paralympic games twice for Nigera and would have qualified to compete in 2004 in Athens and 2008 in Beijing representing the United States, except that he was not able to get American citizenship in time.
On February 12, 2010, Dennis was granted American citizenship and the honor of representing the United States at the IPC Athletics World Championships in Christchurch, New Zealand in January 2011. As a member of the American Paralympic team, he is a hopeful favorite for the 2012 London Games.
“I am so proud to be an American, I cannot even find the words to describe the feeling,” Ogbe said. “Having kits (uniforms) with the USA logo on them from the U.S. Paralympic Committee are so special, I wear them with great respect and pride. I spoke to a friend from Nigeria right after I became a citizen; he asked me if it had really happened.”
“When I told him I was now, yes, an American, he just started yelling on the phone in joy. He knew how important that is, and was so proud and happy for me. That is how I feel too. I am here by the grace of God. ”
Dennis now trains in the best way he can, simulating the throwing motion in the gym, since there is no indoor facility in Louisville that is large enough to handle a discus or shot put throw. In the future, he hopes to have more discuses and shot puts to practice with, but for now makes due with the facilities and equipment he has, unfazed by the challenge.
“It is very important I work on my technical abilities, because that is how you become a world champion,” Dennis said, “I have always been concentrating on lots of things, emotionally, physically, with my balance, coordination and training. But it would be very helpful if I could find the sponsors to help me do the work I need to do to become the best.”
He works as the Global Community Relations Specialist for Brown-Forman Corporation in Louisville where he lives with his wife, Dyan and daughter, Marylou. Dennis faces each day with the passion and enthusiasm he brings to his sport.
“I loved challenges and growing up with a disability I was expected to prove to everyone that I can do it. My disability couldn’t keep me from achieving my dream.”
“My path, beset with obstacles nearly from the start, has truly been thousands of miles in the making. The sweat and tears required to overcome these obstacles makes me feel like I’ve walked every one of those miles, but looking back on it now I wouldn’t change a thing. While my finish line is yet thousands of miles on the horizon, when I one day cross it I won’t be alone. I will be holding hands with all those who have helped me over the years: God; father; family; and dear friends.”
- 2012: Speaker for the United Nations Foundation’s campaign Shot@Life
- 2012: Represented the United States at the London 2012 Paralympic Games
- 2012: Two Gold medals in Discus and Shot Put Throws F58 – US Paralympics Track and Field Championships, Indianapolis, Indiana
- 2011: Silver medal discus F58, ParaPan American Games – Guadalajara, Mexico
- 2011: First place Discus and Second place Shot-put at the Czech Opens – Czech Republic
- 2011: Bellarmine University Alumni Association Gallery of Distinguished Graduates Inductee
- 2011: First place, Discus Throw F58 and a new American record in Shot Put F58– U.S. Paralympics Track & Field National Championships, Miramar, Florida
- 2011: First Place, Discus, Shot Put – Thunder in the Valley Games, Saginaw, Michigan
- 2011: First Place, Discus, Shot Put – Desert Challenge Games, Mesa, Arizona
- 2011 IPC Athletics World Championships Team Member, Christchurch, New Zealand. Ranked #4 in the world in Class F58
- 2010: First place, Discus Throw F58, Shot Put F58– U.S. Paralympics Track & Field National Championships, Miramar, Florida
- 2010: First Place, Discus, Shot Put – Thunder in the Valley Games, Saginaw, Michigan
- 2010: First place, Discus F58, Shot Put F58 – Boiling Point, Windsor, Canada
- 2008: Gold Medal, Discus, Shot Put, – Endeavor Games, Edmond, Oklahoma
- 2008: Athlete of the Year – Endeavor Games, Edmond, Oklahoma
- 2007: First place, Discus Throw F58, Shot Put F58 – U.S. Paralympics Track & Field National Championships, Atlanta, Georgia
- 2007: Gold Medal, Discus, Shot Put, – Endeavor Games, Edmond, Oklahoma
- 2006: First place, Discus Throw F58, Shot Put F58 – U.S. Paralympics Track & Field National Championships, Atlanta, Georgia
- 2006: Gold Medal, Discus, Shot Put, – Endeavor Games, Edmond, Oklahoma
- 2005: Gold Medal, Discus, Shot Put, Javelin – Endeavor Games, Edmond, Oklahoma
- 2004: First place, Discus, Shot Put – Toronto, Canada Opens, Toronto, Canada
- 2004: Gold Medal, Discus, Shot Put, Javelin – Endeavor Games, Edmond, Oklahoma