• By: Katie Hartai

Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame Profile: Daniel Igali

2015 marks the Year of Sport and the 60th anniversary of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. In recognition of these important milestones, OLM will be featuring Honoured Members of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in a weekly Profile piece.

Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame aims to share the stories and achievements of its Honoured Members to inspire Canadians in all aspects of life.

Daniel Igali: Athlete, Wrestling

Much more than an Olympic champion, Daniel Igali is a true Canadian hero and inspiration.

Born in 1974, Igali grew up with 20 siblings in one of the poorest villages in Nigeria. Food had always been hard to come by for the large family. With so many mouths to feed, Igali literally had to wrestle his brothers and sisters to secure a share of the meals. This fight for survival slowly turned into a natural talent for the sport of wrestling. Igali entered his first national competition at the young age of 16 and won. He used the victory money towards one of his leading passions — school.

Igali’s determination and hard work in the ring quickly paid off. By 1994 he was the African National Champion and represented Nigeria at the Commonwealth Games in Victoria, B.C. Igali realized Canada could offer him the athletic training and education that was challenging to find in his home country. Making the difficult decision to leave his family, Igali claimed refugee status and remained in Canada becoming an official citizen in 1998.

He wasted no time to enroll in post-secondary education. Igali accepted an offer from Douglas College (later transferring to Simon Fraser University for a degree in Criminology) where he physically trained four hours a day, six days a week. Over the next three years, Igali won an amazing 116 consecutive games, placed fourth at the 1998 World Championships and second at the World Cup.

His breakthrough moment was at the 1999 World Championships in Ankara, Turkey where he became the first Canadian to win a Gold medal. A year later Igali won Gold for Canada at the Sydney Olympic Games, once again becoming the first Canadian to do so for wrestling. With pride, he wrapped himself in the Canadian flag and wept during the playing of the national anthem at the medal presentation. His choice to stay in Canada was the right one.

Shortly after the Olympics, he created the Daniel Igali Foundation which helps youth in developing countries similarly reach their educational and occupational goals. In 2006, the organization opened a school in the Nigerian village where Igali grew up. He hopes to build more with the foundation in the future.

Click here for more information about Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame.