Hackney People: Ade Orogbemi

The sportsman has represented Great Britain in three Paralympic Games

"ONCE you’ve decided to aim for the very highest level, you have to give it absolutely everything,” says Ade Orogbemi. Adding: “You have to put that thing first and put everything else to one side.” 

He should know. The wheelchair basketball player has represented Great Britain in three consecutive Paralympic Games and has only just returned from Rio, where his team won bronze.

“I was born in Lagos, Nigeria, but came to Hackney when I was about 11,” he recalls. Adding: “It was a bit of a shock, everything was different – from the temperature to the way of life. But you learn to adapt as you go along.”

Sudden changes are a feature of Ade’s life. In 1997 he was coming home from Hackney Community College when a man stopped him on Mare Street.

Ade says: “He asked me if I was interested in trying wheelchair basketball. I knew nothing at all about it. I was into football, and had played a little table tennis but that was all. But it sounded interesting.”

The man was Leroy Dobson, who had set up the Hackney Sparrows wheelchair basketball team in 1987. He saw something in the young Ade that afternoon, and soon he was picking him up every Wednesday and ferrying him to practice sessions.

“The first time I got on the court I just thought: wow,” says Ade. Adding: “It was like flying in my chair, it was so liberating and eye opening.”

Six months later, Leroy told him that he been invited to try out for the GB youth team. Ade recalls: “That’s when I got my first sense that it was something I might be able to do seriously. But it wasn’t till 1999, when I got invited to train with the GB senior squad that I saw how far I could go.

“Everything was different there. You had to take everything very seriously, get everywhere on time. The coach wouldn’t take any rubbish at all from you. I realised what a huge commitment it would mean. And how much dedication I’d need. But I had to do it to give myself a chance to make this happen.”

During those years, Ade put sport before everything, travelling Europe and competing for some of the continent’s leading club teams including Zwickau in Germany and Porto Torres in Italy. He made his major international debut at the European Championships in 2003, and represented Great Britain at three World Championships. Still, he says, waiting to hear if he had made it into Team GB for the Beijing Paralympic Games was, ‘terrifying’.

Ade recalls: “The squad were brought into a waiting room, to hear their fate. You went into a room, one by one, to hear if we’d been chosen to compete in Beijing, then left by the back door so the other players didn’t find out whether you’d been selected or not.”

The moment he was told that he had been selected for the Paralympics was, he says: “One of the happiest of my life.” Four years later, the feeling of competing in his home town, so close to Victoria Park where his family still lives today, was ‘indescribable’.

Ade recalls: “The seats were absolutely packed. It was nine at night and when we pushed out onto that court it was like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. Everywhere you went, people would stop and say, ‘we’re rooting for you’.”

This summer’s Paralympics in Rio were also phenomenal. Ade says: “Our target was to take the top four. With each game, you get closer to those medals, and by the quarter final, you know it’s a knock out. Lose that game, and you’ve lost your dream.”

They didn’t lose, however, and Ade and his teammates were wearing bronze medals yet again.

As soon as the Games were over, Ade flew back to Spain where he now lives with his wife. You might think he’d earned a long break but, he says: “At my age you’ve just got to keep on going…”