Olympic champion Daniel Igali will trade his wrestling belt for a toolbelt when he returns to his Nigerian homeland in March to lay the foundation for a new school.
Igali vowed that when he was able, he would return to his village of Eniwari and replace two rundown, mud-walled buildings with a new facility that would better meet the needs of 500 school-aged children in the area. With that goal in mind, drawings in hand and some startup funds now secured, Igali is ready to begin the project.
"My desire has always been to give these kids a proper learning environment," says Igali, a recent SFU graduate who hopes to begin his master's degree in criminology this fall. "I always said that as soon as I could do something, I would."
Igali will be accompanied by 16 high school students from Mission's Heritage Park secondary school, who will help with the project while they learn about African life. The students raised funds for the trip and will stay with Igali's family and friends.
The project has been a little overwhelming for Igali, who has raised about $25,000 of the $200,000 he figures he'll need to complete the six-classroom building. While he continues to raise funds, he is looking ahead at a busy year of competition, and some new challenges. He leaves for Nigeria the day after returning from a world championship qualifying meet in Venezuela March 15-17. The Canadian national championships follow in early May. And he'll miss the World Cup in Spokane in early April.
"I had to give something up," says Igali. "It will be tight. But this is dear to my heart."
As for training, Igali will have to make a few changes. Wrestling weight classes have recently been changed. As a result, he's been moved up from the 69 kg category to 74 kg. "I weigh exactly 74 kg," says the five-foot, six-inch wrestler, noting many in his new weight class are closer to six feet and heavier. "It means I will have to be faster, stronger and more creative."
Igali needs to win the national competition in order to compete at the world championships in Iran in September. A ninth place finish in 2001 world competition hasn't discouraged him.
He's looking to reclaim his championship title. "It will be a year of challenges," he smiles. "But I've been through many before."
To learn more about the school project or make a donation, contact Igali via email
or check out his website