Wednesday, January 19, 2011

40 after 40: Daniel Igali

Photograph by: CP Photo/ COC

A surprise meeting in the dead of night with the law would scare the pants off most of us. But not Daniel Igali. As a child, an encounter with police officers at his home left a positive impression.

“They wanted to know about the whereabouts of a neighbour who had apparently assaulted his girlfriend. It was the manner of their approach that convinced me I had to study criminology. I wanted to be a cop after that meeting with the police officers.”

Daniel also dreamed of becoming a top wrestler. By his teens he was already champion of Nigeria. But he knew he would have to leave his homeland, a country scarred by civil unrest and poverty, if he wanted to make it big.

In 1994 Daniel found a new country and a new college that told students, “You can go anywhere from here.” Daniel decided to go for the top – and reached it.


 Daniel’s journey is one of the most celebrated in Canadian sport. A member of the Nigerian wrestling squad attending Victoria’s 1994 Commonwealth Games, Daniel made the tough decision to stay in Canada, as a refugee.

“I was in a foreign land, I had never used a computer before nor knew how to type. Everything, including the accents of Canadians, was foreign to me. But I quickly overcame those initial difficulties, including the weather, and settled down.”

He began studying Criminology at Douglas College and joined the College’s elite wrestling team. After three semesters he transferred to Simon Fraser University and joining the Canadian wrestling team.

In 1999 he won the World Championship in Ankara, Turkey. In 2000 he captured Olympic Gold in Sydney, weeping joyously while flourishing the red and white flag of his adopted country. That same year Daniel was named Canada’s Male Athlete of the Year.

He eventually returned home, where he’s been the national coach of the Nigeria Wrestling Federation for the past three years. His team took three gold, three silver and seven bronze medals at the Commonwealth Games last year.

He also established the Daniel Igali Foundation in his old village of Eniwari, which has raised more than $600,000 to open the Maureen Matheny Academy. Named after Daniel’s Canadian friend and surrogate mother, who died of cancer in 1999, the school is the first of its kind in the area, with 11 classrooms, a gym, a library, a computer room and more.

With so much on his plate – including the 2014 Olympics in Glasgow – Daniel found time to reflect on his experiences at Douglas.

“My days at Douglas taught me the value of working hard, of working as a team. The support at Douglas and the support of the wrestling program made things comfortable for me.

“I never feared I would not succeed.”

40 after 40 is a series showcasing our amazing grads and employees in celebration of our 40th anniversary. Check back every Wednesday and Friday for another inspiring story. See more about our 40th on our Anniversary page.