In March 2020, I shared a public platform with a smiling 17-year-old schoolgirl who was wearing a tracksuit like any teenager — except this girl reportedly ran like the wind. We were part of an An Post International Women’s Day panel, and she spoke with humor and humility about her amazing talent for speed.
I remember asking her how to pronounce her name and she laughed good-naturedly and said people were struggling with that. This week this name is familiar to many of us thanks to her performance at the European Championships – my colleague was Rhasidat Adeleke.
During this event at Dublin’s GPO, Rhasidat recalled her surprise at discovering how fast she could sprint as a young girl – so fast that she was soon beating the boys she was competing against. I wondered aloud how they reacted. They were amazed, she said – and didn’t like it at all. Then she looked down at her feet and smiled modestly.
At the time she was a student at Presentation College, Terenure, Dublin and was scheduled to take her Leaving Certificate later that year. She described how difficult it was to stay focused, with before and after school workouts and weekends dedicated to training and racing. Talent scouts at American universities were already chasing her, but she left that to her mother.
Rhasidat told the audience she really wanted to make a name for herself in athletics and have the honor of representing Ireland. She also stressed the importance of having the support of her family, especially mother Ade, who pushed her everywhere.
I then spoke briefly to Rhasidat’s family, who were bursting with pride – sister Latifah and brother Abdullah were in the audience alongside Ade. Ade and Latifah work for An Post in post processing at the Dublin center and it was clear to see how Ade had passed on to Rhasidat a respect for the value of hard work.
Years of effort paid off this week at the European Championships in Munich, when 19-year-old Rhasidat broke Ireland’s national record in the women’s 400 meters to finish fifth in a hard-fought race, finishing in a time of 50.53. Clearly, she’s well on her way to realizing her dream of excelling as a runner.
Also in Munich, Israel Olatunde (20) from Co Louth broke the Irish record in the men’s 100 meters. So this week two talented young Irish athletes made track history in the space of 24 hours. Both Irish-born and of Nigerian descent, the two sprinters are the public face of a new and multicultural Ireland. If ever proof was needed that Irish society is on the rise and becoming more diverse, Team Ireland’s Rhasidat Adeleke and Israel Olatunde are living, successful and positive proof.
Rhasidat hails from Tallaght, Dublin while Israel was born in Drogheda and grew up in Dundalk. They’re friends and training partners, and they’re only a few months apart in age – Rhasidat turns 20 at the end of this month. She’s young, fit and committed and we’ll hear a lot more about her triumphs in the future.
The pair have huge potential both in terms of their running careers – Olympic medal prospects are yet to come – and as role models, not only for younger athletes but also for the immigrant community, where they play an iconic role as flag bearers. But they also have a broader symbolic role as representatives of a more diverse Ireland.
“Fastest Irishman in history” ran the headlines about Israel. The UCD student finished sixth in the men’s final with a time of 10.17 seconds, breaking Paul Hession’s record of 10.18 set in 2007.
Headlines about Rhasidat also highlighted her talent and ability, recalling that she is the fastest Irish woman ever in the 60m, 200m, 300m and 400m. As for endurance, she has it in abundance and is competing again today as part of the Irish 4 x 400m relay – her 50th race of the season.
“I gave everything I had,” Rhasidat said after her event.
“I’m so grateful,” Israel said after his. “I’m just going to keep working on it and building on that.”
Work, keep going, give it your all – these are positive and inspiring messages for all of us.
Let us now turn to concerns expressed in certain quarters about pressure on housing and services from migrants, asylum seekers and displaced persons arriving in Ireland as the country becomes ‘too crowded’.
While this viewpoint is not representative of what Irish people generally think, it is making an impact.
We need to think about what migrants bring to Ireland, not what they take, and see ourselves in others – our shared, irreducible humanity. Newcomers settle down, take jobs, pay taxes, have children and make valuable contributions to the community.
Rasidat and Israel grew up in hard-working families — Israel’s mother, Elizabeth, is a carer and his father, Isaac, works in security — and their stories are shining examples of the benefits of welcoming people.
Yes, infrastructure needs to be improved and the housing stock increased – but the housing shortage is due to government policy failure, not a flood of new arrivals. Meanwhile, people of all nationalities keep our healthcare system running, our supermarket shelves stocked and the construction industry staffed.
Years of effort are behind Rhasidat’s and Israel’s record performances, Rhasidat said in the GPO. In sports, as in other walks of life, people who specialize in the impossible are not only necessary but essential to instilling in the rest of us a sense of the value of perseverance, dedication and confidence.
You make Ireland proud.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/our-record-breaking-athletes-rhasidat-and-israel-do-ireland-and-their-families-proud-41921893.html Our record athletes Rhasidat and Israel make Ireland and their families proud