TOYIN YUSUF, captain of Nigeria U-20 women’s handball team has grown to become one of the country’s best talents.
The 18-year-old, like every youngster, is dreaming of leading the country to glory, but is ready to bid her time as she continues to develop her talent.
“I know I’m still young and all I want to do now is focus and continue with my development. I am confident that one day I will attain the height I dream of and lead the country to glory,” Yusuf told PUNCH Sports Extra.
Yusuf’s journey to becoming a handball player was accidental, after she was discouraged from pursuing a career in football, her first love.
She started as a goalkeeper but saw her stint was cut short due to her fragile nature.
“I started my as a footballer but my coach said I wasn’t strong enough and suggested that I try out with handball,” Yusuf added.
“I was a goalkeeper then but he was of the opinion that my legs were fragile and that they can’t really kick the ball very well.
“The first day he took me to play handball I fell in love with the game, I must confess I didn’t even feel like stopping and that was how the journey started for me.”
Unlike many athletes, who are often demoralised when they can’t pursue a career they have passion for, Yusuf took the coach’s suggestion as a challenge and was determined to succeed in her newfound game.
“When my coach told me that I should try out other sports, I took it in good faith and said ‘no problem,’” she added.
“I didn’t feel bad at all because I believed he was the coach and he knew what was best for me. When he saw that I was ready for the new challenge, the next day he took me to the stadium in Jos and I started my training there.”
Today, Yusuf is the captain of the Nigeria U-20 women’s handball team currently in Conakry, Guinea for the Africa Women’s Handball Junior Championship.
However, there is no road to stardom without challenges and the youngster had her own share of it coming from her mum, who was against her pursuing a career in sports.
“My dad has always been in support of me pursuing a career in sports but you know our mothers, mine was very overprotective and she had the belief that I would gradually act like a man.
“She had several wrong perceptions about the game and she wanted me to learn how to cook and do household chores rather than going for sports.”
For Yusuf, there’s absolutely nothing to regret having gradually climbed the ladder up and proving critics wrong in the process. She’s even won over her mum.
Hers is the story of perseverance and determination to hold her head up standing on strong and unmovable “fragile legs.”
“I won’t lie, the journey has been amazing and now my mum is now my number one fan and I really love her for that.”