Ade Adepitan has revealed all about his dream of becoming a father
For years Ade Adepitan put his heart, body and soul into making sporting history.
First selected for the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney, he won a bronze medal as part of Great Britain’s basketball team in 2004 and a year later scored the winning basket that won them gold at the Paralympic World Cup in Manchester.
By the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, Ade, now 45, was presenting C4’s coverage alongside Clare Balding.
Having retired 13 years ago he’d now be forgiven for enjoying a well-earned rest but Ade’s regime of keeping fit and healthy continues in preparation for his next big dream: fatherhood.
“I want to stay fit because we want to have a family at some stage and I want to be fit enough to look after my kids,” says Ade of his future plans with his fiancée, Edinburgh-born singer Elle Exxe, 27.
“I want to be able to play sport with my children and carry them. When you’re not fit, not only does it affect your physical ability it affects your mental side so you have less of an appetite to do those things. Even though I’ll be a bit of an old parent I want my kids to still see me as a sportsman.”
Ade was just 15 months old and starting to take his first steps when he contracted polio, an acute viral illness that occurs in the gastrointestinal tract and is spread through water contaminated with the virus, while playing outside the family home in Lagos, Nigeria.
“There was an open drainage system where kids would go to grab toys or balls that had fallen in. I vaguely remember trying to walk a little bit on the street and falling into a puddle. Polio would have been rife,” explains Ade, who at the time had only received one of two doses of inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) as part of the country’s immunisation programme.
He quickly fell ill with a fever and stomach cramps and a rash appeared down the side of his left leg.
Ade was rushed to hospital but overnight the infection spread through his bloodstream and began attacking his central nervous system.
“My mum tells me that by the next morning you could see that my left leg had shrunk,” continues Ade. “Polio attacks the spinal cord and stops muscle development, which creates a wasting away and paralysis of the muscle so you are unable to walk. There are pictures of me trying to walk before I was 15 months but after the illness, that was it. I never tried to again.”
Ade Adepitan with his fiancée Elle Exxe
I want to stay fit because we want to have a family at some stage and I want to be fit enough to look after my kids
Frustrated by Nigeria’s poorly-funded healthcare system and desperate to get Ade urgent medical treatment, his mum Christianah moved him at the age of three to England where his father Ajibola was already working.
The new beginning in Plaistow, east London, came with a sad sacrifice because Ade’s elder sister Omoyile, who has Down’s syndrome, had to stay behind with relatives.
Ade benefited immediately from NHS care, which was initially paid for by his parents until they qualified for free treatment after two years of paying UK taxes.
“The less you use a leg, the more it starts to deform so I was in hospital a lot having operations to try to straighten it,” says Ade, who also has scars on his left hip and thigh from tendon-stretching procedures, plus another that runs from below his left knee to his ankle.
At no point did doctors consider amputation, enabling Ade to learn to walk using callipers at the age of four.
He also wore an ankle brace at night to stop his toes from curling forward.
Ade Adepitan playing in the 2004 Paralympic Games
“I used to dread going to bed because mum put it on super-tight and it really hurt,” he recalls. “My calliper hurt too but as I got used to it that became manageable.”
Ade always gravitated towards sport, first playing football on the school field, then excelling in junior powerlifting before competing in wheelchair basketball with The Newham Rollers.
It was a sport recommended by his physiotherapists and as a teenager, the regular physical activity rewarded him with the independence he craved.
“The fitter and stronger I was, the more I was able to do. I could walk, then walk faster and I was also stronger so I didn’t have to rely on people.”
“It’s really frustrating when you have a disability that everyone assumes that because of your disability you’re going to be less independent.”
With physical freedom, came ambition. From the second Ade picked up a basketball at the age of 11 he dreamed of playing the sport professionally.
“The moment I realised this was something I was good at, my aim was to try to be the best I could. I didn’t know that would eventually lead to being professional,” he said.
“I just hoped it would open doors for me. Ultimately I wanted to play for Great Britain and go to the Paralympics.”
These days Ade plays basketball three times a week, which involves a lot of wheelchair pushing and explosive moves. He prefers this more “natural” approach to exercise over pumping iron in a gym as he did when he trained full-time.
“If I don’t need to use the car, I make sure I push more. I’ve just come back from three weeks in Africa filming a four-part BBC Two travelogue documentary where I was pushing through the bush in Senegal and up a mountainous side of a hill in Cape Verde – naturally exercising. It’s easier to maintain that way.”
As with many polio survivors, Ade has difficulty tolerating cold temperatures, a problem linked to poor circulation usually caused by underdeveloped blood vessels in the area of his body affected by the condition – in Ade’s case his left side.
Due to the pressure on his kidneys from sitting for long periods in a wheelchair he has also had problems in this area in the past.
Drinking three to four litres of water daily helps, as does a “little and often” nutrient-rich diet packed with vegetables and a limited quantity of red meat.
“I have to work harder to burn calories and if I put on a substantial amount of weight, it’s going to really have an impact on what I can do,” he explains.
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Aside from setting himself challenges, Ade’s overriding passion is for changing attitudes towards people with disabilities, by drawing on his own experiences and his understanding of intellectual disability, having grown up with his sister Omoyile, 46, who rejoined Ade and her parents in 1986.
“The thing I hate the most is when people make assumptions about people because of the way they look,” he says. “See the best in everyone and allow them to show you their ability. It sounds cheesy but we all have an inner superhero.”
• Ade’s Amazing Ade-ventures: Battle Of The Cyborg Cat by Ade Adepitan (Studio Press, £5.99) is on sale now.