Uneku Atawodi is a businesswoman. A philanthropist. A government worker. A world traveler. And an international professional polo player. She’s 25 years old. How has this young woman accomplished so much with such little time on earth? She started with not taking no for an answer.
Actually, Uneku was born with a health problem — bronchial pneumonia — that can still cause some breathing issues. But that hasn’t stopped her. Twelve years ago, Uneku fell in love with horses. She was introduced to the sport of polo when business opportunities led her father to move the family from Pakistan back to the Arab-influenced Nigerian city of Kaduna, where polo was a weekly ritual. It’s an activity more common for families than sitting at home. “The first time I watched it, and saw the aggression and speed and love for the game the players had, I fell in love,” says Uneku.
Unswayed by discouragement from her family, Uneku made up her mind to become the best player she could be. And she did. But not without finding time to get a bachelor’s degree in Equestrian Science and a master’s degree in International Business with Spanish. She even found ways to pursue business ventures and use her platform to effect change through government and nonprofit work. Now Uneku has come to the States; Atlanta to be specific.
We caught up with the business-minded equestrian to find out what brought her to America and what drives her success.
Madame Noire: What resistance did you receive to your involvement in polo?
Uneku: Oh a lot! It was so awkward, because the adults were pretty straightforward about it! “Neku, you cannot play because you are a girl, go cook!” “Neku, a woman’s place is not on the horse, you won’t get married.” I think my fascination with polo grew from the resistance though. I was a curious child, and constantly hearing [I was a miracle baby led me to] believe that I was invincible! I used to say, “Mummy, He cannot try to take me twice! Calm down!”
Madame Noire: How has being Black and female influenced your experience as a polo player? Do you think it has impacted your career at all?
Uneku: Well I studied Equestrian Science, so if anything now it has positively impacted my life path. It allows me to give other children the opportunity to have the sport open doors for them, like it did for me! I have played in so many amazing countries around the world and have met so many amazing people, most of whom have helped me in my career decisions, and have led me to some very successful business choices.
Madame Noire: What do you think is keeping more Black women from entering the sport? How can we change that?
Uneku: There is an influx of all cultures entering the sport, and that comes from the sport being popularized in modern times, and getting to more people. I guess in America, it is the wealth bracket. It is seen as an expensive and elitist sport. But I find the polo community to be one of the most welcoming sporting communities, and if you approach a club with your interest, you might end up with a beautiful new life experience.