Since making history at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games as the first African and first Black woman to compete in the sport of skeleton, Simidele Adeagbo’s life has had one exciting adventure after another. She was chosen for the Obama Foundation Leaders: Africa Program and spent a semester at Yale University as a World Fellow. Now she has authored a children’s book, “Sleigh, Sleigh, Sleigh All Day” with illustrations by Petra Paliskova.
“This is an extension of the broader body of work that I’m able to do and the broader mission that I feel I’m serving as an athlete, which is about inspiring the next generation,” said Adeagbo, who represents Nigeria in international competition. “For me, it’s really important to think about what types of lessons I’m passing on to the next generation.”
The book follows the story of Damilola, a young Nigerian girl, who sees snow out her window and wants to go sledding. She is scared, but after encouragement from her mother she gives it a try. Although she tumbles down the hill on her first try, she goes back up the hill and tries again.
Throughout the process, Damilola propels herself by reciting her own mantra that reminds her that her destiny is in her hands. That courage-inducing mantra was based on Nigerian Yoruba culture. Called an “oriki,” it is a form of praise poetry that each family uses to tell stories of their ancestors and inspire future destiny.
“The central character gets in the game,” said Adeagbo. “She does not stay on the sidelines even though she is fearful, she’s unsure. The whole message of the book is to try something new, overcome fears and obstacles, try new things and get to your end goal.
“Looking at it from a broader diversity and inclusion process, it does send a message that there is no space that a Black girl, Black characters can’t be in,” she added. “The winter wonderland is just as much for Damilola as it is for anybody. That very much mirrors my journey as an Olympian.”
The book is available worldwide. Adeagbo is currently on a book tour in the U.S. This past season, Adeagbo competed in the monobob, which made its Olympic debut in Beijing. Although she won an international race, she did not qualify for the Games. Undaunted, her work toward gender equality at the Olympics continues.
“Also, thinking holistically about the ways in which athletes from emerging nations can be supported in a deeper way,” said Adeagbo. “As an athlete, I’m looking for ways in which I can continue to grow and develop. We’ll see what’s on the horizon.”