It was not a love of sport that got Nigeria's Ijomah Kingsley into Para rowing, but a love of food.
“I enjoy food from anywhere, so you can imagine how happy I am about the 24/7 dining in Tokyo,” Kingsley said.
“I was invited to Warwick Rowing Club’s annual dinner (a few years ago). I just said yes. It was food, it was black tie, it was fancy, and I said, 'OK, let’s do this'.”
At the suggestion of a fellow guest Kingsley headed to a rowing club near to his home in western England, and sat on a rowing machine for the first time.
“One of the guys watching ran out and came back with another guy, and that guy ran out and came back with someone else, obviously impressed by something.
“The following weekend they said, ‘come and we’ll get you out on the water’. I didn’t know what that was going to be like. I thought maybe they’d tie a rope on the boat and pull me along, I had no idea.
“It was incredible. I just loved it. It was literally like discovering to walk all over again. Just getting out on the water and being in the middle of the river, it was just so serene, so peaceful. That’s how I got hooked."
IT WAS SO SERENE, SO PEACEFUL
The 38-year-old joined the British rowing development squad, before the World Rowing Federation suggested he should try to become the first male African rower at the Paralympic Games.
“I contacted Nigeria, but Nigeria said I wasn’t Nigerian enough. They wanted somebody home grown. I left Nigeria when I was 13, 14 years old, but they wanted somebody who was there.
"They’d never been in rowing and the person who represented them in Para rowing was going to be living in England. It didn’t make sense to them. I understood that."
However, minds were changed and by 2018 he was representing Nigeria at the World Championships. Kingsley, who had polio as a child, qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at the 2019 African Olympic and Paralympic Qualification Regatta in Tunisia.
“It’s quite interesting sharing the space with the rest of the Nigerian athletes. They’re world champions in powerlifting, in table tennis and in javelin, but rowing just doesn’t exist at that level yet. It’s a big deal for Nigeria."
Kingsley competes in the PR1 men's singles sculls.