Dennis Covered by Miami Herald

Paralympics Athlete Living American Dream

By Jim Varsallone

What a year it already has been for track and field athlete Dennis Ogbe.

In February, the native Nigerian lived a dream by becoming a U.S. citizen. One week later, his dream of competing in U.S. Paralympics came true when Ogbe entered qualifiers for Team USA.

Even though his left leg is paralyzed, Ogbe is a talented discus and shot put thrower.

As a member of the Bellarmine Catholic University track and field team (2002-06) under coach Jim Vargo in Louisville, Ky., Ogbe (6-2, 185 pounds) battled abled-body throwers in the discus, javelin and shot put.

Ogbe, 34, who earned a bachelor’s degree in 2006 and an MBA in business administration in 2007 at Bellarmine, works in Louisville for Brown Forman Corp. He and his wife, Dyan, have a 20-month-old daughter, Marylou. They cheered him to victory in the discus F58 (Field Event/Wheelchair) at 45.19 meters and shot put F58 at 12.93 during the weekend’s U.S. Paralympics Track and Field National Championships in Miramar.

Seeking sponsors, Ogbe is striving to make the U.S. Paralympics team for the World Championships in January 2011 in Christchurch, New Zealand. His efforts at nationals at the Ansin Sports Complex helped his cause as the U.S. team will be named in September.

Ogbe’s personal best in discus is 52.77 meters which he recorded in March in Pomona, Calif., his first competition after becoming a U.S. citizen. His mark in the shot put is 14.52, set in Oklahoma in 2006. Both are the best marks of any U.S. Paralympics thrower.

Growing up in Nigeria, Ogbe had malaria at age 3. When he went to the clinic, a nurse accidentally broke a needle in his back, and he went into a coma. After three days in a coma, he survived but contracted polio.

Confined to a wheelchair — both legs were paralyzed — abled-body kids ignored him. Also, in Nigeria, a paralyzed youth becomes a beggar.

Although other kids shied away from Ogbe because of his disability, Masai Ujiri did not. A talented basketball player, who is now the assistant general manager of the Toronto Raptors, Ujiri and Ogbe became best friends. Ujiri would persuade Ogbe to stand and walk, and with that encouragement, Ogbe regained use of his right leg in his early teens.

Like Ujiri, Ogbe believed in the American dream and knew someday he would live it. Vargo helped him realize his dream. They met when Ogbe competed for Nigeria in the 2000 Summer Paralympics in Sydney, Australia.

After earning a degree at Ahmadu Bello University, the largest university in Nigeria and second largest in Africa, Ogbe accepted a college scholarship offer from Vargo and traveled from Nigeria to Louisville, beginning his American dream.

‘The journey has been rough, brutal,'” an emotional Ogbe said, “but God is on my side.”

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