Naomi Ogbeta, Salford girl, student, comedian, and Triple Jump finalist at the European Championships, shares some of her story.
Tell us about yourself…
I’m Naomi. I Iive in Salford. I’m a triple jumper for Great Britain and am going into my third year of studying Politics and Quantitative Methods at Manchester University. I also do improv comedy and make some vlogs.
What has faith looked like for you so far?
Both my dad and my uncle are pastors so I’ve grown up around church my whole life. But it wasn’t until I started uni, got a car, and was able to choose my own church and find friends my own age that I began to feel like I had a true connection with God, personally. Since then I’ve seen God help me in so many ways, not least in my athletics, where I pray before I jump and remind myself that I can “do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. I know there must be a reason for my talent and I hope that one of the reasons that I’m doing athletics is so that I can share God’s love and inspire others to increase their faith as well.
Are there any standout moments where you can say, “God really showed up”?
Yeah! Most recently was just before the British Championships. I was so nervous driving to church and felt like God told me to ask for some prayer. I walked into church and God highlighted the specific person I should ask. I was unsure, but did it anyway, and was amazed when the guy said that the words he felt led to share were that I was going to go further, I was going to go higher, and that I should just enjoy the competition. That really motivated and inspired me, and not only did I win, but I jumped a personal best, broke the British u23 record and even qualified for the senior European competitions – so I really did go further and higher! My preparation for the Championships was not good at all, I literally only trained twice going into it, so for God to help me in this way was really amazing.
How have you found balancing elite athletics with school/uni/church life?
The hardest time for me was actually during A Levels. I only started jumping in Year 11 but focusing on training or competing was very difficult when I knew I had an exam coming up. It was quite stressful. Uni has been a lot easier because the timetable is less intense and I’ve been given help with extensions when deadlines have clashed with competitions. With church, many competitions happen on a Sunday so I can sometimes go a month without attending, but being able to pray with my family everyday and connect with the student group in the week has really helped. When I was younger I used to love skipping church, because I had no personal connection with God, but now I genuinely miss it when I can’t go.
Now you’re at uni, are people surprised when they find out you’re an athlete and a Christian? What have been some of their responses?
Some people are surprised – I think because I’m a funny, jokey person and they kind of assume all Christians are super serious. But I’ve been really inspired by my brother (a footballer) to use things like social media to share who I am and what I believe. He’s constantly thanking God and trying to motivate people, and I try and do the same with a little #thankGod or other simple hints. So many people have asked me about my faith, and about church, which is really amazing. Uni actually asked me to do a Snapchat story, and even though I was really nervous about it and didn’t know how it would come across, I took the opportunity to tell the guy interviewing me that church is one of the best things that has helped me to make friends. He was really blown away and it showed me that I don’t need to be scared about what people think. Since then, a lot more people know I’m a Christian but I’m so proud to say it and love talking about it now.
What has doing athletics taught you?
Not to care what other people think. At the end of the day, I’m not competing for anybody else, other than God and myself. So no matter how well I do, whether people say I’m amazing or terrible, it doesn’t matter if I know that I’ve done my best. It’s taught me resilience and the power of training hard for something; even if it seems impossible, it can actually happen if you work for it. And it’s taught me to keep trusting in God. Being able to hop, step and jump in a certain order is such a niche talent but seeing how He has used that already, in such a short amount of time, has really taught me to trust him.
Can you tell us more about some of the challenges that have shaped you?
I went into the 2015 World Youth Championships in Colombia as the u18 British record holder and ranked 3rd in the world, so I thought it was going to be a breeze. I was already thinking about the reception I’d get when I went back home as champion. But when I got there I really struggled. It was the most anxious I’d ever felt and I ended up missing qualification for the final by 1cm. I remember just crying and crying when I saw my name next to 13th place. So much was running through my head – not least the fact that I was the team captain yet the only person in the whole squad who didn’t qualify for the finals. It was really tough. But it taught me a lot and I’ve matured loads since that experience. I’ve stopped comparing myself to the other athletes, and the distances they’re jumping, and instead just focus on my performance and how I can make my jump better.
Another challenge was the first time I lost in England. I’d just broken the indoor u20 British record and was on top of the world. But after one foul jump I just kept on running and running, straight out of the stadium. I was crying on the phone to my dad, and then it dawned on me how unprofessional and even rude I was being. I went back in, hugged the girl who won, and since then I’ve genuinely felt happy for people when they do well, rather than being jealous.
How do you think your faith impacts the other key areas of your life?
It has definitely kept me more positive, and people do notice that. I’m not happy all the time but I know God has put joy in my life, and I do always see the positive side of things and trust that everything will happen at the right time. I also feel like I have the spiritual gift of discernment, which has helped me read situations and help people. Whether it’s in competition or an exam, I feel like God has given me a gift to reach out to people and inspire them.
How have you found your course so far? I can’t imagine there’s much overlap with your athletics! What have you got out of it that has inspired or challenged you?
I have Attention Deficit Disorder and, in my first year, really struggled to meet my deadlines. Uni have been really supportive though, mainly by putting me on the DASS programme. I was really embarrassed about finding things hard but in receiving support I’ve seen how it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. I’m not going to be good at everything, and I’ve learned that it’s good to ask for help if I need it.
Uni has also taught me a lot about people. So many people have moved away from home and are a bit lost, and uni can really impact your mental health. I’ve seen how meeting people and being in a positive environment can be so helpful and I try to do that for people where I can.
What does it look like for you to show up as a leader in your various spheres of influence?
Last year, after I won the u23 Championships, I was approached about going in to schools to speak to children. I get to motivate them and encourage them to believe in themselves and not compare themselves to others. I’ve found that the teachers take a lot from it as well. I also get asked about my faith by the kids sometimes, so it’s nice to be able to use this opportunity to reach out as a Christian as well.
What advice would you give to someone just starting uni, trying to figure it all out?
Just try your best to be yourself. It’s really hard at school or college as there is so much pressure to fit in with those around you, but when you’re in a brand new environment at uni, it’s a really good time to actually find out who you are. Try and enjoy it, don’t do anything you aren’t comfortable with, ask for help if you need it, and try and find a strong group of friends. Student lunches at church are an amazing way to do that!
Thank you so much Naomi. We love your heart, your humility, your dedication and your commitment!
We hope this has inspired you! To keep up with Naomi, check her out on Instagram @naomiogbeta.