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ELLE Collective: Neku Atawodi-Edun

With an undying passion for performance, Nigerian-born Polo player, Neku Atawodi-Edun shares a few details about her career as a mother, thriving athlete, company director and being part of a sport that is transitioning.

Where did your journey as a professional Polo player begin?

I started playing Polo when I was young living in the Northern parts of Nigeria. Polo is quite popular there. When I asked if I could play Polo as a young girl, I was told that I girls shouldn’t be on a horse and shouldn’t play Polo - being a bit of a rebel, that motivated me to want to play Polo.

Photography: Stephen Fourie

Who or what inspires you to do what you do?

The love of the sport and the idea of not disappointing the young girl with dreams that I once was. Now that I am older, I can say “I am going to make that young girl proud”. I call myself a Polo-techpreneur because I work in Polo and I work with technology entrepreneurs as well. The world today allows women to wear different hats and to wear them well. I am proud to wear those hats.

Photography: Jan Venter

What is like being a female, in an often male-dominated field? 

Polo has come a long way from [being a] traditionally old, historic sport. The modernisation of it is only happening, now where all-female games are prevalent and giving women their own handicap rating system, which gives us the opportunity to aim for the top without hundreds of men being above us. It’s getting there and it is amazing to be in this period in which transitions are happening. I hope to continue to be a voice for female women in sports and African women doing different things in technology and sport, and really encouraging organisations to come and support that.

It’s not that women can’t do, it’s just that we are now given the opportunity to do. Women now have the opportunity to have a seat at the table and I think we have that responsibility to amplify our voices so that we can shape the experiences around us.

Photography: Daniel Saaiman

What is your greatest achievement so far?

My greatest achievement is actually having my son. Putting my body through that, as an athlete, you put your body through so much but nothing compares to pregnancy. The fact that we as women can literally create life and nurture it is incredible. I want women to understand that we’re physically very powerful and after having my child, I feel stronger as a sportswoman because it’s made me believe that you can do anything and it has opened my mind, making me see the world in such a different way.

What do you wish people knew about your profession?

I wish people knew that it’s not just a sporting event that you attend to drink champagne. It’s watching a sport athletes have dedicated their lives to. It's about athletes who actually live so that they can feed their horses because they are so passionate about the sport, and I think it’s the most athletic thing because not only are you playing golf on horseback, you are also controlling a living thing and bonding with that animal - creating synergy. 

I want people to understand that there is a lot that goes into the sport and that the most prepared person is the one that comes out at the top. It can be frustrating because its commonly seen as an elite sport where people have a party and drink champagne but are unaware of what is happening in the game itself. I want to spread a message that it is in fact a serious sport and I want to get more people televising it.

Photography: Stephen Fourie

What are the challenges you face on a day-to-day basis? 

My challenge, perhaps in reference to the 10-year challenge, would be my self-doubt. I think as an athlete, you still have some doubt or nerves but you very quickly overcome that. Having my family gives me sense of peace in that you understand that if you go out and lose a game, it’s not the end of the world because that’s not all you have - I know have my family to come back to. 

Polo is an incredibly expensive sport and because I play in South Africa and also trying to play in Europe and Argentina, it means that I have to keep a strength of horses in various countries and so this means buying and the upkeep of the horses which is a bit of a challenge, because it’s not a televised sport and when you are marketing to sponsors who want to sponsor the sport some of them want the eyeballs from being on television.  Funding can be quite a challenge.

Photography: Jan Venter

What do you know now, that you wish you knew in your early 20s? 

You can actually learn anything and the people we call ‘gifted’ are the people who have practiced a skill more than the next person. Now that I am older, I understand that you can now learn anything and despite it taking a bit longer, practice makes perfect and it’s about accessing your mistakes to perfect your craft. The human mind is so powerful, especially when its committed to achieving something. 

Image from: https://valdevie.co.za/veuve-clicquot-masters-polo-cape-town-2019/

In the midst of the highly-engaging Polo season in South Africa, the Val de Vie Estate will be hosting the Veuve Cliquot Masters Polo Cape Town 2019 on 2 March 2019. Join us at an exceptional event featuring proficient athletes in an ever-growing sport sparked by the sheer anticipation of momentum, flair and all rounded style.

For more information about this event, go to https://valdevie.co.za/veuve-clicquot-masters-polo-cape-town-2019/

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