Anyika Onuora won Olympic, World, European and Commonwealth sprinting and relay medals during 12 years competing for Great Britain and England. But behind her medal-winning smiles lay a journey filled with horrifying physical and mental turmoil. In her newly published autobiography, My Hidden Race, Anyika tells all..
From a young age, I was taught that life wasn’t fair. For years my parents had dealt with racism. Their sacrifices eventually provided me with the platform and opportunities to run on the greatest athletics tracks in the world.
But I have experienced things as a British athlete that haunts me during the day and the night. No matter how hard I try, I will never be able to outrun the demons in my mind.
I have been brutally sexually assaulted, experienced frequent racial abuse and attempted suicide twice. All while competing for my country.
My parents are from Nigeria and from our first day on the street in the suburb of Dingle, Liverpool, I could feel vicious hatred from a local gang of kids: the Onuora family were not welcome at all.
We were used to being the only black faces in a world of white ones but we had never experienced such naked hatred to our faces. We left the house for only two reasons; to go to school or to church.
The racist insults of those years have never left me.
The word “n*****” was spat at me countless times.
The front of the house became a no-go zone, due to the front window being shattered most nights by bricks.
Every Sunday, just as the minister in leafy Mossley Hill was giving his sermon, our house would either be attacked or burgled by the gang. It became a horrifying routine.
I developed terrors and became a confirmed insomniac. Eventually, our car was firebombed and completely burnt out in an arson attack.
Finally, we moved to Wavertree where I gained a reputation for cleaning up the silverware at the annual school sports day.
My friend persuaded me to go along with her to Liverpool Harriers and on the track; I found I was strong, free and, at times, unstoppable. I would go on to win European, World and Olympic medals.
I visited a host of different physios. One day my regular one wasn’t available and a replacement stepped in.
Just as I was fully relaxed and he moved to my hip, he placed his hand directly on my vagina. He removed his hand before continuing the treatment, slowly pushing the boundaries.
For my lower back, he climbed on to the treatment table and mounted me, saying that he needed to get more leverage to release tight muscles.
I could feel his manhood through his trousers, and felt completely violated, but helpless.
Only much later a physio friend told me, in no uncertain terms, that I had been sexually assaulted. When you are young and filled with dreams, you are at your most vulnerable. I didn’t want to rock the boat, even slightly.
Years after, I was competing abroad and found myself in a hotel lift with a sportsman I knew. Later on I would see the sportsman again at the post-race banquet. He was drinking a lot and frequently asking me to dance. Each time I politely said “no”.
Eventually, I told him I was going to catch the bus home. He grabbed my waist quite strongly and slurred that I was going to miss an amazing night. I removed his hands, said goodbye and went to get on the bus.
I was settling down to go to bed. Suddenly, I looked at my watch, it was 3am. I heard someone trying to open my door. The door knob initially rattled softly, then suddenly it was being shaken aggressively.
In a few seconds, it was forced open. I sensed who it was. I wasn’t scared; I was seriously annoyed.
He told me he wouldn’t leave until I admitted I liked him. I refused and in a split second, he grabbed me aggressively. Suddenly I was scared.
The sportsman told me he didn’t know why I was trying to fight it.
He had my arms pinned with his knees and my wrists above my head. He wrenched my underwear off. I went completely numb, crying uncontrollably. My body was convulsing.
I told myself, ‘Just keep fighting with everything, Anyika. Fight him. Fight.’
As he was about to complete the act he released his knee which was pinning down my right leg. I kicked as hard as I could and my knee connected with his genitals. He screamed and rolled off. I yelled at him to get out.
I never told anyone in British Athletics about the assaults or racism I endured. I have spent many nights wondering why not.
The answer is that I never felt there was someone who would understand what I had gone through. The vast majority of the support staff were white and none had experienced racial discrimination.
I tell this story now in the hope that it gives other female athletes who have been degraded and damaged the courage to reach out and speak up.