Martha Bissah; A Nearly Aborted Foetus Now A World Champion

The Ghanaian dream of producing its first ever Olympic Gold Medallist at any level would have lingered on for decades, if not for the decision of a selfless teenage mother to keep a month old foetus that was a hindrance to her own rise to stardom and perhaps to freedom from poverty.

Ghana’s first ever Olympic Gold Medallist, 17 year old Martha Bissah, tells the inspiring story of how her mother, who was an athlete and a footballer in her school days as a teenager, was in a dilemma to either abort a one month old pregnancy for greener pastures abroad, or to keep the baby and choose to endure the hustles of life in her third world country, Ghana.

Martha’s mother, a good footballer and an athlete had not performed on any internationally recognized stage, but had the rare opportunity of being whisked abroad so she could realize her dream by someone who spotted her. In an interview with Eddy Micah Junior on ETV’s Revealed programme, Martha disclosed that her mother, who was unaware of her pregnancy, said she was sick, only for a check-up at the Hospital to confirm that she was a month pregnant.

The duration of the pregnancy made it somewhat safer for an abortion, as was suggested to her to enable her make that life-changing journey overseas. In a continent, where the desire to travel abroad for greener pastures compels many to embark on perilous voyages at sea with no assurance of a decent life, risking a month old foetus whose future was uncertain, would have been easier in exchange for a genuine expedition abroad to nurture a talent.

Besides, coming from a country whose heroes are rarely honoured, it would have been an opportunity to make a name for herself abroad and perhaps naturalize if she so wished, weighing the benefits of that option. But for reasons that one may not easily comprehend, the selfless teenage mother who was coincidentally 17 years at the time, abandoned her dreams and made what some would call a stupid or weird decision, by insisting she will keep the baby. She thus forfeited that rare opportunity.

Now call it a miracle or destiny, and you will not be wrong; because that foetus, which was not aborted in exchange for stardom and perhaps money in women’s’ football or athletics at age 17 abroad, has supernaturally turned out to become a world champion in athletics inexplicably also at age 17. Martha’s age is now twice the age of her mother who is 34 years old. Martha was discovered by her coach right from basic school through to SHS.

You can interpret it whichever way you wish, but the bottom line remains that this is undoubtedly a moving story that carries a lesson for all, most especially for those who will easily opt for abortions in similar or isolated circumstances.

Perhaps, there wouldn’t have been a Martha Bissah to achieve this feat for Ghana after 62 years of participating in the world games without a Gold Medal if that foetus had been aborted. Many greater foetuses may have been aborted already, but let’s save the rest and allow them to form in the wombs, see the world, live their dreams and make the world a better place.

Martha Bissah won the Girls 800m at Nanjing-China at the 2014 Summer Youth Olympics. But surprisingly not many Ghanaians are aware of young Martha’s heroic achievement, ostensibly because all our attention and commitment is focused on football to the detriment of athletes and other sportsmen and women.

Prior to this historic race, Martha had participated in the African Athletics Youth Championship in Botswana where she won bronze medal.
She was also at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow-UK, where she sadly placed eighth and also placed sixth at the African Senior Athletics Championship in Morocco. But with her determination and a promise to herself to go beyond her bronze medal in Botswana, she went on to win gold at the world event in China, beating amongst others the very Ethiopian contestant who won the gold in Botswana.

Narrating the story of how she grabbed the gold medal with her warmth smiles and intermittent laughter coerced by the host, Martha said her Ethiopian opponent, who had been a strong challenger on different stages did not even smile at her or extend any pleasantries when she beat her and alongside a German who could have foiled her dreams.
She says it was only her German challenger who won the Bronze medal that congratulated her. She says although she wasn’t perturbed about the behaviour of the Ethiopian, she expected her to have been nice to her since they were all Africans.

‘’I am very happy I beat the Ethiopian in particular because she had beaten me at the African games to win the Gold medal so initially when I saw her by my side I panicked a little but I told myself that I will not allow her to beat me again this time because I didn’t want to be third again. “As I was going to the competition, Prof Francis Dodoo told me that I shouldn’t go to the inner lane and that I should stay outside of the leaders from the beginning so I don’t get boxed in lane one, as I was in the Commonwealth Games and African Championships.

I followed that instruction. In fact, that thing helped me very well. When we were going, I realized that the German and Ethiopian were moving strongly and I realized I was falling into third place so I found the inner strength to sprint away with about 150m to end the race. I was very happy at that moment when I won.”

Martha, who completed her secondary school education this year, says she has been training hard with the National Athletics Team for the next Commonwealth games and most especially the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro-Brazil, where she is targeting some medals, particularly gold. She says this is not an easy task because she will compete with professionals and not as a youth. She is however confident of winning something.

She expressed her profound gratitude to her long-time coach and Guardian, Corporal Isaac Nii Odartey Lamptey and the President of the Ghana Athletics Association, Professor Francis Dodoo who amidst all the challenges they are faced with, have supported her preparation at every stage.

The 17 year old who was celebrated by the nation for her heroic feat and personally awarded 10,000 cedis by President John Dramani Mahama when she presented her medal to him, is however not happy with the unfulfilled promises made to athletes and the lip-service paid to athletics in Ghana.

According to her, just like President Mahama also congratulated and made promises to support her and the sport, not much is happening. Even at age 17 and already achieving heroic feats for her country, the notion that Ghana is not a nation worth dying for appears to be sinking into Martha’s mind. As I watched and followed her story keenly, there was one question on my mind.

Will Martha Bissah continue to fly high the flag of Ghana or she may switch nationality just as Ghana’s Olympic long-jumper Ignatius Gaisah did and Margaret Simpson is also considering following suit?
Just when I asked myself this question, then the host of the programme asked Martha Bissah how she felt about the fact that they get little or no support for their preparation and training and yet when they achieve success the nation feels excited and takes the glory. And this was her response, ‘Ghana for you’’. Then I moaned and said to myself this is not good for Ghana.

Obviously this is not good for a country where some budding athletes have already switched nationality because they were never supported or appreciated whiles flying high the national flag. But I guess we can’t blame them much. Who doesn’t want to be appreciated or supported when he or she is on a good course? He who climbs a good tree is given a push-This is a Ghanaian proverb that is rarely given meaning when it comes to diligent service to country in this very nation.

Instead, the opposite is what pertains in our part of the world. People rather make frantic efforts be it physical, emotional and in some cases spiritual, to bring you down from that tree so you never get to the top. And the underpinning factors of this canker that has become known in Ghana as the Pull Him Down Syndrome or P.H.D are envy, jealousy, selfishness, greed and wickedness.

It is also here in Ghana that we have a proverb which says, when you are rejected somewhere, move to another place to avoid shame – so I guess any athlete who has switched nationality or is yet to do so to where they will be appreciated and supported have not erred at all.
And so if Martha Bissah gets to that point, I will be elated and I am sure many Ghanaians will not begrudge her because in that case, we can be certain that her talent will not be wasted like it would have been in Ghana where inadequate or non-existent training facilities and lack of motivation prevails.

I dare say that if Martha, 17, had achieved this feat in the United States or anywhere athletes or talents are treated almost equally for personal and national gains, she would have been properly decorated as an icon and a national asset. And she would have been given all the monetary rewards for a good-living and the assistance needed to attain higher heights and laurels for herself and for national pride.

But what do we see here in Ghana? Instead of a national policy with direction to improve the sport and assist talents like Martha Bissah holistically, the President individually offers her 10,000 cedis cash reward interspersed with sugar-coated words and then what? End of story. It’s good to be rewarded with cash for a work well done but in this case, it almost looks like n a populist act if you ask me. And also an indication of how our leaders have failed to think long-term solutions to our problems. We just put in place quick fixes and the problems keep coming back at us because they never get solved.

Shouldn’t this young girl’s success which was never chalked in 62 years reawaken our commitment to correct the injustice we have done to athletics as against football or better put the Black Stars, to put in place the right infrastructure and motivation to train and equip more Martha Bissahs to fly high our national colours?

I am sure that just a tip of the monies that are wasted through corruption and blatant thievery of our so-called scanty resources, such as happened with Ghana’s Brazil 2014 World Cup Campaign, can be used for this purpose.

There are so many great athletes in this country that could have competed to become like the Carl Louis’ Usain Bolts, Maurice Greenes, Yohan Blakes, Marion Jones; and the rest. But their speeds were shattered even before they could see and feel the tracks of any major sports arena.

I am only 31 years but going through Junior and Senior High School, I saw great runners for all tracks as well as athletes in other disciplines like long jump and short-put, who did exceptionally well. I remember back in the days during inter-schools competition at the Michel Camp Military Park in the Tema Metropolis, a runner from the Ashaiman Secondary School who was nicknamed ‘’Motor’’ because of his extraordinary speed in the 100m race.

He was a delight to watch and he left spectators spellbound with his speed. What became of his talent is insignificant history not worth telling because the last time I checked he was a photographer. Don’t misconstrue my point, photography is a profession. But in the case of this man, although he may be earning a living out of it, this is certainly a case of a misplaced purpose as the late Dr. Myles Munroe will put it-May his soul rest in peace.

I am sure many of us who loved and followed sports have memories of several great runners in our various schools who couldn’t get anywhere not because they didn’t want to but because there has never been any solid infrastructure in place to help them.

Fortunately or unfortunately, this is a sport in which an individual cannot easily harness his or her own talent without societies or governments creating the platform to assist them; because unlike a footballer who can harness his or her potential and chose to play in any team and subsequently attract national call-up, an athlete cannot do so because he or she must be endorsed by a country to run wearing its colours.

But here in our part of the world, we simply don’t care much about developing talents. It is thus not surprising that even football which enjoys all the attention, our focus is on those who have matured or aged already and are playing for the Senior National Team, the Black stars. Less attention is paid to the development of youth football which is the foundation.

Successive governments have literally killed the aspirations of many sportsmen and women by knowingly or unknowingly denying them the chance to exhibit their talents- and posterity should not exonerate us.

I guess enough has been said. With my ears and eyes still gazed on Martha’s interview on ETV’s Revealed show, she disclosed that training with her coach was difficult due to lack of training kits and limited support or funding, which compelled her to eat all kinds of meals when professionally she should be restricted to certain meals to aid her training and performance. Despite the challenges and limitations, Martha says she was able to achieve that feat with determination and with the help of God and will never give up even if Government doesn’t offer the needed assistance.

Martha, who reads her Bible and sings at church when she is off the tracks, retorted ‘’If not God, who else’’, when the Host asked whether she believed that God played a role in her success.

‘’Now nobody is even helping me to get training equipment but I am training well to achieve my aim’’ she stated sadly but with fortitude.
Martha, who says she wants to become a professional athlete, is thus appealing to Government to pay attention to athletics just as it does for football.

‘’We are not saying they should not help football but they should also focus on us because athletics is also a sports just like football’’ she emphasized.

She wants Government to provide training materials equal or similar to the ones in other countries to help prepare and train more athletes insisting there are many young athletes in the country with the potential to win more laurels for the country.

‘’Training equipment, accommodation and motivation is all we need so the government should help us’’ she said.

Martha’s Coach corroborated her claims about their challenges in an article published by the Ghana News Agency on its website on October 2nd 2014, titled ‘’Martha Bissah’s Coach Calls for more support’’. The Coach, Corporal Isaac Nii Odartey Lamptey, cautioned that the gifted athlete and her colleagues might miss the 2016 Olympic Games if they did not get financial support from Government and corporate Ghana to sustain their career development.

The Coach emphasized the young athlete needed to improve on her 800-metre Gold Medal winning time of 2:04.90 minutes, if she would stand a chance of winning laurels at the senior level in the not-too-distant future.

‘’After Martha got back from the Youth Olympics in China with the 800 metres Gold Medal, she was the darling of the whole country and got the opportunity to meet the President but just a week after that everyone seems to have forgotten about her. We expected the nation especially corporate bodies to give her financial support for her preparations, including equipment and training kits when the season starts’’ the Coach said.

Coach Lamptey, a police officer by profession, who operates the All Nations Athletics Academy at Buokrom in Kumasi, where he caters for over 30 children including Martha, explained that his salary was inadequate to cater for his family as well as all the athletes under his care.

‘’The facility where Martha and the other athletes are housed is an uncompleted storey-building without electricity. People expect so much from her, especially after they heard the President gave her money, but there are competing interests on that money .That money was a reward for Martha’s exploits in China, for her preparation for the new season, and by extension for her parents who are cassava farmers at New Aboi in Bogoso’’.

Martha advised young athletes to be disciplined at all times and take their training seriously if they want to succeed in their chosen career. She further admonished them not to rely on help that may never come to them particularly from any quarters in Ghana, but rather believe in themselves and remain determined to realize their dreams.

The smallish-looking athlete, bubbling with hope and determination, with an amazing voice, thrilled the host Eddy Micah with a local gospel song after she revealed that she was a singer at church. Martha’s choice of song in the Akan dialect titled ‘’Empare me se mesan mekyi’’, which literally means ‘’I will never give up’’, clearly sums up the story of how she has been lifted from grass to grace and the fact that she will never give up on her dreams despite the challenges of being an athlete in her homeland Ghana’’.

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