Igali recovers from surgery

Mar 06, 2003, vol. 26, no. 5
By Marianne Meadahl

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Daniel Igali (left) holds a photo card capturing his Olympic medal presentation. He signs the cards for students during school visits across the country to promote his Eniwari school project.

Daniel Igali dreams of chasing more gold. But his biggest accomplishment these days is managing a short walk around the block.

The Olympic wrestling champion underwent major neck surgery Feb. 20, after a stubborn pain first noticed before Christmas reappeared upon his return from a visit home to Nigeria. Tests revealed he had a herniated disk.

The disk was removed and a small plate inserted. During the operation, the disk was taken from the front left side of his neck, in order to save cutting precious muscle tissue from the back. Doctors expect he will make a full recovery.

Igali emailed his family to tell them the news after the surgery, which came in the middle of a busy spring season of training and competing in a new weight class. The move has the former 69 kg wrestler up against competitors in the 74 kg category. It'll be at least two months before he can get back on a mat.

“Wrestling is the furthest thing from my mind,” concedes Igali, who was released from Vancouver hospital on Feb. 23. Since then he has taken short daily walks but finds it a struggle to turn his head and swallow. “All that matters to me right now is to be healthy again.

“I feel confident that I will be back,” he adds. “But this is different for me. I've always thought that if I'm going to make a call about where I go with wrestling, I want it to be on my own terms. In this case, I have to wait and see how the healing process goes. It looks good, but I realize how much I value my health. I want to be 40 and playing soccer with my kids.”

The surgery follows a month of speaking engagements and promotion of his other dream - building a school for the children of Eniwari, Nigeria.
Igali says momentum for the project has been building since his public appearance at an SFU basketball game on Feb. 7 that was dedicated to the cause. More than $3,000 was raised for the school project.

Since then he has spoken to school groups in Ontario and most recently, West Vancouver, signing photo cards illustrating his Olympic gold medal presentation. His talks prompt a stream of small donations as well as dozens of emails from keen kids.

“Hearing about what life is like for these African kids always touches something,” he says. “It's encouraging to see that concern among young people.”

Igali needs to raise another $240,000 to reach his goal of $300,000 for the school, which he hopes will serve to educate the community about other issues, such as AIDS. The foundation has been laid. There are also plans for a water-well, a solution to the village's high mortality rate.
Igali's surgery also interrupted his second semester as a graduate student in the school of criminology.

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