IPC celebrates Nigeria’s para table tennis couple heading to Paris

The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) has celebrated Nigeria’s para table tennis couple, Christiana and Kayode Alabi, who are preparing to feature at the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games in France.

The IPC on its website described the couple as role models for athletes across the globe.

“Meet Para table tennis power couple Christiana and Kayode Alabi, who are preparing to represent Nigeria at the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games this summer,” IPC stated.

Recalling how they met, IPC wrote, “Nigeria’s Para table tennis power couple Christiana and Kayode Alabi met through the sport and spend most of their waking hours striving to get better, aiming for success at the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games.

“In September 2023 they won their respective events at the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) African Para Championships in Giza, Egypt, which doubled as a qualification opportunity for the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games. That gave them plenty of time to prepare for the Games and they sure do.

They met at the 2017 national trials in Lagos, Nigeria. “I won all my matches and was playing very well,” Alabi said.

“So Ifechukwude (Christiana) came and said she would love to be performing like me. I said, ‘you are good, but if you want to perform like me you need to train hard and train like me. We started to play together and I told her, ‘this is how you do this, this is how you do that’.”

Christiana had grown up playing table tennis, even though there had been no table nor any bats.

“I loved it, even when I was very little and I used to play on the street,” she said. “There was no table tennis table in my village. From when I was seven, we used little wooden benches on the street. We played with golf balls using bathroom slippers as racquets . I didn’t know that I could have it as a career.”

One day she met a man from an indoor sports club, who invited her to play table tennis there.

“He asked me if I wanted to be a sportswoman and I said yes. He took me to a stadium and there were some girls already playing. The coach asked me to come back and play some other time, with a racquet,” Christiana said.

“I went to my father and asked him for a racquet, and he went to a carpenter. But when I brought the racquet to the stadium, they were laughing at me because it was made of plywood and didn’t have the right shape.”

Since 2019, however, she has been training with Kayode and both of them are now the best in Nigeria. In 2021, Christiana won a bronze medal at the French Open, in her first trip out of Africa.

“He taught me everything about table tennis, how to serve, how to be in the right position; everything,” she said.

Kayode was more than happy to help Christiana to the top.

“I loved her from the first time I set my eyes on her because she’s very calm in everything she’s doing,” he said.

After their first meeting, the couple stayed in touch over the phone. Christiana, who is from Delta State, a seven-hour journey from Lagos, kept talking about how she wanted to improve her table tennis. She did not have any family in the former Nigerian capital, but Kayode encouraged her to train.

“I kept on encouraging her that I will take care of her and after a bit more than a year she decided to come to Lagos. In 2019, I started training her to become what she is today,” Kayode said. “That’s how we started living together five years ago, and that is how it has been since then.
I’m No. 1 in the country in my category, she is No.1 in her category, because I am the one who trained her from the start, from level zero.”

They tied the knot in November 2022 and continue to strive to become better athletes together.

“In life, there are many challenges. But if you push your efforts and overcome those challenges you become what you want to become in life. We are trying our best to put this together,” Kayode said.

Every weekday, the couple arrive at the sports hall to start training at 11 a.m. They train together for two hours, then take a long break for lunch and rest before doing a second training in the evening, leaving the sports hall at 6 p.m.

Since the Alabis do not have a car, they usually stay in the sports hall for more than seven hours a day. Being together makes their journeys easier.

“It’s not very easy to be a disabled person. We just train here to be what we want to be in life. We don’t have a car; we have to take a bus. It’s a lot of work getting from our home to the training,” Kayode said.
“The same thing, when we go home in the evening, we have to go to the bus stop together and then roll to our house, there is no shuttle bus taking us to where we live. That is how we manage ourselves, every day.”

In Preparing for Paris 2024, they have increased their workload and added one gym session per week to the training schedule. However, the preparations for their Games debut do not end as they leave the sports hall. Arriving at home they go through video clips from their training.

“We watch a lot of videos at home. We normally set up the camera ourselves in our training, so when we are at home watch it, going through it to see where we have made mistakes, so that the next day we can correct them,” Kayode said. “Every day when we go home, we watch ourselves and other people playing, as well as players we have played before.”

They also watch Olympic stars, such as China’s Ma Long or Nigeria’s Quadri Aruna, play. Aruna, the first African player to be ranked in the top 10 in the world, is a friend and role model.

Kayode Alabi wants to top the podium at the Paris 2024 Paralympics. @ITTF

“I admire Quadri’s performances. He is also an aggressive player, so he doesn’t joke with any point; like I want to play too. I also watch Ma Long’s games; he is also an aggressive player and I try to do some of what I see them do.”

The aggressive playing style has given Kayode his nickname “the lion king”.

“He is always aggressive, attacking in the playing. When he is playing, he plays like he wants to break the ball,” Christiana said.

The king and queen of Nigerian Para table tennis are not just going to the Paris 2024 Games to participate.

“I believe that for both of us to be the No.1 in our country, and the No.1 in Africa, we can be the No.1 in the world,” Kayode said. “So we are not just going there to participate, we are going there for a mission that we want to achieve. We want to get the gold.”

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