Dennis Covered by U.S. Paralympics

Ogbe is no Long Shot In Shot Put, Discus

By: Joanne C. Gerstner

Dennis Ogbe knows the question is coming before it is even asked: How does he do it all?

Ogbe, a U.S. Paralympic track and field hopeful for the 2012 London Games, is juggling a full-time job, a wife and small child and his training and competition schedule.

Sleep and down time are rare as Ogbe is driven to live life to the fullest. He is the top-ranked American and the current U.S. champion in his shot put and discus classifications as he heads into the 2011 IPC Athletics World Championships Jan. 21-30 in Christchurch, New Zealand.

“I cannot say why God put me where I am, other than I am most blessed with everything that is in my life,” said Ogbe, a native of Nigeria who became an American citizen last year. “Nothing has come easy, so I think that is why hard work, and doing all of these things seem ordinary for me. I am filled with so much love for life, passion for sport, and I want to accomplish as much as I can. Life is good.”

Ogbe’s life reads like an American dream fable. He was very ill as a child, contracting malaria at 3. Ogbe’s worried parents sought medical treatment, taking him to a nearby clinic for help.

Things went from bad to worse when Ogbe went into a coma and struggled for life. He awoke a few days later but had a weakened immune system and contracted polio.

He survived the major illnesses, but there was a major toll on his young body. He was paralyzed, unable to use his legs.

As he grew up, Ogbe discovered the able-bodied children didn’t want to play with him. But he found one true friend, somebody who remains his biggest supporter, in Masai Uriji.

Uriji didn’t see Ogbe’s limitations. He saw his potential.

“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.”

Ogbe, with Uriji’s help, learned to walk again despite his weak legs. The pair played soccer, basketball and collected hundreds of pigeons as a hobby in their native town of Zaria. When they were a bit older, Ogbe taught Ujiri how to ride a motorcycle.

He has regained much of the strength in his right leg, but Ogbe’s left leg remains paralyzed. He has adapted his own way of walking, overcoming the disability with a heavy limp.

Ogbe, like Ujiri, came to the United States for university through a sports scholarship. Ogbe has a bachelor’s degree and M.B.A. from Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky., and now works as a human resources specialist for Brown-Foreman in Louisville.

He competed in discus, javelin and shot put at Bellarmine, facing off against able-bodied athletes. Uriji played basketball at Bismarck State in North Dakota and has since made the sport his career.

Ogbe faces financial challenges in funding his training and travel expenses to go overseas for competition. There are no indoor training facilities in Louisville that are large enough to throw discus or shot put, so he makes due by simulating the throwing motion to keep the muscle memory at a local gym.
He competes from a seated position, using a chair specially made for throwing athletes with physical disabilities, as per his Paralympic classification. It takes nearly 15 minutes of unpacking and assembly to set up what he calls his “humpty-dumpty” chair out of his 1997 Toyota Corolla. He’d like to get an SUV, or another type of car that allows easier access, to make the process quicker and easier.
Ideally, he would like to be able to travel to other competitions around the world, taking on the best in his sport to learn from them.

He also wants to have a few more discuses and shot puts to practice with, in order to save the best ones for competition.

But all of those wishes take money, thousands of dollars, which Ogbe doesn’t have. His wife, Dyan, is a schoolteacher. He takes unpaid leave to go to competitions.

The family, which includes toddler daughter Marylou, cannot afford the trip to New Zealand to see him compete.

To Ogbe, these are all details to be figured out, a mere set of obstacles to be overcome. He is seeking sponsors, through his website dennisogbe.com, and hopes Uriji can use some of his sports connections to develop necessary relationships.

“It is very important I work on my technical abilities, because that is how you become a world champion,” Ogbe, 34, 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.”

Ogbe has competed twice in the Paralympic Games, for Nigeria.

But qualifying for the 2012 London Games, as a member of the U.S. team, would be a very moving event. He could earn his first international medal as an American at the world championships in New Zealand.

“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. ”