Three years ago, Peacemaker Azuegbulam lost his left leg when his Nigerian army unit came under fire from Boko Haram jihadists in the north of the country.
Now Azuegbulam is an African champion.
Last month, Azuegbulam won gold in the Invictus Games in Dusseldorf, Germany — the first Nigerian and the first African to secure the top prize in the games.
“I feel great to become the first champion in Invictus Games from Africa,” he told AFP in Abuja. “Invictus means unconquered, we are still unconquered because we are still alive.”
Started in 2014, the Invictus Games were founded by Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, himself a veteran, as a way to help in the rehabilitation of wounded servicemen and women through sports.
The event now involves 23 nations, and includes sports from weightlifting to volleyball and table tennis.
Azuegbulam, 27, won gold in a powerlifting category, and also competes in sitting volleyball and other sports.
It has been a painful journey for Azuegbulam.
In October 2020, he was part of an army unit fighting to dislodge jihadists in the northeast of Nigeria, where the military has been battling Islamist militants for more than a decade.
Jihadists opened fire with an anti-aircraft gun, wounding Azuegbulam, and forcing doctors to amputate his leg.
“After being injured, I got into a lot of things emotionally, physically, and even mentally, I was thinking a lot of things, I was not myself, it was very tough,” he said.
With the help of local organisation Nigeria Unconquered, he started to become involved in sports recovery for wounded servicemen and veterans and eventually to a team heading to the Invictus Games in September.
Bobby Ojeh, director of Invictus in Nigeria, said Azuegbulam’s gold would bring hope to others and saw more African nations joining the event.
Nigeria’s jihadist conflict in the north has killed more than 40,000 people and displaced more than 2 million more since 2009.
The country’s security forces are also battling bandit gangs and separatists in different parts of Nigeria.
For Azuegbulam, originally from the southeast state of Imo, sports brought him back to life.
“I am recovered now, it is due to sports. Nothing more than you seeing yourself doing something,” he said.
But he said he found more inspiration at Invictus Games from the support of other wounded servicemen and women.
“I have new friends now, I have new family now that can encourage me, advise me and know where to help me,” he said.
After gold at Invictus, the Nigeria champion said he intends to keep on with more sports competitions.
“As it stands now, I am ready. The ability is there I am ready to go further in any sports. Even in the Olympics I am ready,” he said.
“I want to continue in sports. Let me focus on sports and keep on winning.”