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How Canadian coach saved Onyali’s life in New Delhi

By Ben Efe
There was no comfort at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, India for Comfort Onyali. She missed a medal she was favoured to win in the women’s long jump, she bungled the 4x100m relay with her team-mates and then she suffered a seizure.

But for the quick intervention of Canadian athletics coach, Carla Nicholls who administered first aid, the young Onyali could have passed on. But she survived the ordeal and  was back on her feet the next day to thank Nicholls for saving her life. Indeed it was a traumatic experience for Spain-based Onyali.

Sunday October 10 is a day Onyali perhaps would want to forget. She had stepped into the Jawahal Nehru Stadium with one aim of winning the gold. But it seemed the whole world collapsed on her shoulder.

She made three faulty jumps and that earned her a disqualification. She was reduced to a nervous wreck. She cried her heart out, her lament was so great that the other competitors were united in grieve with her. Moments later as she walked away to the dressing room she collapsed and was fighting for her life.

It was a frightening situation, because she was not breathing. A TV cameraman called the attention of the Canadian coach, thankfully she knew exactly what to do, having been trained to handle such medical conditions.

Nicholls was able to open Onyali’s airways by holding her jaw with both hands. The cameraman performed artificial respiration, he pumped air three times into Onyali’s lungs and that helped resuscitate her.

She was taken away on a stretcher and was later discharged from hospital without requiring an extended stay.
“I wasn’t myself, the atmosphere was kind of intimidating and I just couldn’t cope,” said Onyali who was competing in her first international sports meet outside Africa.

“It was quite an experience for me. But now I’m strong and okay, I will go back home and work harder to achieve my athletics dream.”

Onyali overcame her disappointment, she returned to the stadium to look for Nicholls.
“I was standing on the track coaching when I felt a tap on my shoulder,” Nicholls said. “I turned around and there was this young girl standing there, crying.” It was Onyali.

“She introduced herself and then gave me a big hug and thanked me,’’ Nicholls continued. “Then her coach came and thanked me as well. That was kind of cool.’’

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