Heritage, Faith and Soccer

From Nigera to America, How Momola Adesanmi is Living Her "Ancestor's Wildest Dreams"

There is power in a name. 

“I am Momolaoluwa Aralola Adunni Adesanmi,” Momola said. “My names in total mean ‘I know the goodness of God, marvelous are the works of God, a joy to have and the crown paid for me.’”

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Momola Adesanmi with her mother and older brother in Nigeria.

At seven years old, Momola moved from Lagos, Nigeria, to Houston. Momola holds on very tightly to her Nigerian heritage. From her name, her education, to her sport, her Nigerian roots are evident in every aspect of her daily life. 

“Whenever I hear Mo, I feel like I’m shape-shifting to my American side but whenever I hear Momola or Momolaoluwa, I’m like ‘okay, your heritage is speaking,’ my name influences the way I react in a room depending on what I’m called,” Momola said.

Her family made the move to Houston in hopes of attaining a better education for Momola and her older brother Momoreoluwa. Both her parents are educated in Nigeria and have secondary degrees.

As Momola grew and adapted to American life, her parents encouraged her and her brother to get involved in activities of their choice.

“When I first came to America my parents tried to put us in things that would get us out of trouble and keep us going,” Momola said. “I chose ballet because I thought that’s what made you American.”

Momola’s brother chose to play soccer. At one of his games, Momola started dribbling a soccer ball around on the sidelines. A coach spotted her and was impressed by her raw, natural talent. He encouraged her to pick up soccer as well. Eventually, Momola quit dance and focused on soccer.

“As I became older I saw that soccer became like a release, it was a huge freedom to play a sport after hours of homework or whatever it was,” Momola said.

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Momola Adesanmi posing for a family photo her mom, dad and older brother.

Throughout her soccer journey, her parents never lost sight of their mission in America: getting their children an education. 

“I wanted to play soccer in college, it was one of those things I got stubborn about because I was actually supposed to stop playing soccer recreationally in middle school,” Momola explained.

Around the same time she was expected to quit, Momola started to garner collegiate interest for her talent. Her parents quickly realized that soccer would aid in their goal of education.

“Nigerians are very tenacious people, make do with the opportunities you’re given,” Momola said. “When it came to playing a sport in college, if it wasn’t going to be a plus, it wasn’t an option. Playing sports was a means to an education, a means to something else.”

When it came to selecting a university to attend, Momola wanted somewhere that had a strong or relatively new biomedical engineering program and somewhere she could play soccer at a high level. After narrowing her college options down to MU, Auburn or Vanderbilt, her family leaned heavily on prayer to guide them to the right school.

“My mom, a very prayerful woman, that’s another huge thing about [Nigerian] culture,” Momola explained. “She prayed a very specific prayer that said ‘I want to see a representation of Momola here or whatever school she decides to go to, I want to see a representation of her.’”

On Momola’s visit to MU, that prayer was answered.

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Momola Adesanmi is all smiles on MU soccer media day. (Photo/Mizzou Athletics)

“There was a player who had graduated and had just come back for something and she was Yoruba, Nigerian as well and literally it was within the first five minutes of me coming here and my parents talked to her in Yoruba, our language and my mom said, ‘this is the place you’re supposed to be,’” Momola said.

It was on this same visit to MU that Momola discovered the Center for Academic Success & Excellence (CASE) office. The soccer coaches understood how important a good education and strong academic support was to Momola and her family. The coaches took her family to CASE so they could learn what resources they provide..

“At the time I was looking for academic scholarships in addition to what my coaches were offering,” Momola said. “I was basically looking for ways to academically advance myself when I came here and I felt like CASE gave me that option.”

After learning about the many scholarships CASE manages, Momola applied for and was awarded the George C. Brooks Scholarship. The scholarship has benefited Momala financially, but the relationships she has developed with CASE cannot be measured. Family and community have always been central in Momola’s life, CASE provides her with that.

“Mrs. Brock and a lot of the other people that have helped have been amazing,” Momola said. “The first semester I had tutoring at CASE, even though they gave us tutoring at athletics, I was in a lot of group studies at CASE. They’ve given me huge academic and community support.”

MU defender Momola Adesanmi in action vs. Alabama. (Photo/Mizzou Athletics)

After Momola was settled in at college, her parents decided it was time for them to return to Nigeria and be back amongst family.

“The goal of us coming here was for my older brother and me to get a higher education, so as soon as I entered college, that goal was technically completed,” Momola said.

When Momola’s parents moved back to Nigeria, she was no longer eligible to be on their health insurance.

“I was really scared when my parents moved back, I was worried about insurance,” Momola said. “I got a call from financial aid that the Brooks scholarship I’m on covers my insurance and that was a huge relief for me.”

Momola’s scholarship through CASE was able to provide her and her parents with peace of mind.

“It has given me security and alleviated a lot of pressures my parents would’ve felt since they’re not here but at least I’m covered academically and healthwise,” Momola said.

While at MU, Momola has been studying biomedical engineering and working in an obstetrics and gynecology lab. Momola is currently a senior. 

“I am currently on track to finish with a biomedical engineering degree with an emphasis in biomedical materials,” Momola said.

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Mizzou defender Momola Adesanmi during Tigers game vs Cal State Fullerton at Audrey J. Walton Stadium in Columbia, Mo. on Friday, Sept. 13, 2019.
(Photo/Mizzou Athletics)

This is also Momola’s senior season out on the soccer field. The NCAA has opted to give athletes an extra year of eligibility in response to COVID-19, but Momola is unsure if she will use it. 

Momola is proud of her heritage, family and faith in God. Her MU teammates admire those characteristics and are inspired by her work ethic. 

“She has impacted my life in so many ways,” MU teammate Keiarra Slack said. “She works hard in the classroom and puts more work in on the side, she always pushes me spiritually and she reminds me of all the beauty God has put in our lives.”

Momola has always remained true to herself.  While she never goes searching for recognition, everyone around Momola recognizes how special she truly is.

“There is so much to appreciate about Momola,” MU teammate Julisa Cisneros said. “Her upbringing, her relationship with God, her family, there is so much genuine goodness from her that I can’t name just one thing.”

As Momola looks towards her future, she leans very heavily on her faith.

“Nigeria is a very religious atmosphere and my faith in Jesus Christ is a huge part of my personality,” Momola said. “I feel like it is very easy to rely on the faith of your parents, but there have been times where I’ve been by myself and in a mental space especially, that I know my faith helped me through those tough times.”

Regarding soccer, Momola does not know what the future holds. Playing professionally for Nigeria would be a dream.  

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Momola Adesanmi poses for a photo with the Nigerian Flag on media day. (Photo/Mizzou Athletics)

“I would love to play pro soccer in order to play for my country,” Momola said.  “I would love that opportunity, I feel like a lot of my family in Nigerian hasn’t gotten the opportunity to see me play soccer, also I don’t think female sports are elevated in Nigeria and there’s just a lot of things I would love to do on that front and pro soccer would allow me to do that.”

Momola sees her life and her journey as part of her ancestral path, one that would make her ancestors proud.

“When I say I am my ancestor’s wildest dreams, I mean it to say it’s been a long time coming,” Momola said. “Who I am is a testament of who has come before me, in terms of prayers, in terms of efforts. I am a Nigerian semi-American who wholeheartedly loves Jesus with every fiber of her being and wants to be an avid learner and an avid listener  and only continue the work of those who have come before me.”