Uneku Saliu-Atawodi wears her crown well. The first female black professional polo player on the international stage represents her native Abujua, Nigeria by giving back through her charity, Ride to Shine. She regularly spends time with orphans, teaching them riding techniques, and raising money for their education trust funds so they can achieve their dreams of being “doctors, lawyers, [and] football players.”
The 25-year-old knows all to well what it feels like to be a child with a dream. Atawodi started out cleaning the horse stables and today, she’s the first and only black female professional polo player in the world.
“The world is fast becoming more and more globalized, and traveling around the world and living on my own from 14, playing polo in beautiful countries in the corners of the world from 16, that really helped me to attain a globalised view way before my time,” she offers.
“I have played in so many amazing countries around the world and have been led to meet so many amazing people, most of which have helped me in my career decisions, and have led me to some very successful business choices. A world view on anything you jump at in business greatly helps your decision-making process. Analogies from around the world give you hypothetic views on every choice you make before you make it.”
On what keeps more black women from entering the sport…
There is an influx of all cultures entering the sport, and that comes from the sport being more popularized in modern times, and getting to more people. I guess in America, it is the wealth bracket, as it is deemed an expensive and an 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.
On why it was important to earn a masters degree in international business and a bachelors in equestrian science?
I quickly realized that to advance in the sport I love, one would need to be a successful individual. My dream was always to own a polo resort. While traveling around the world playing, I’ve learned that most polo communities are financially successful via real estate. I am also greatly inspired by conceiving a business model and seeing it come to life. My mother used to say I had a bit of a short attention span with popping up with various business ideas everyday. I sold cookies at 11 and made a 300 percent profit, so you bet you my a** thought I was Bill Gates [laughs]. My international business degree helped me understand how different countries around the world operate in business and because I knew that my love came from traveling the world, I knew that I wanted to do business with various people around the world. Understanding their cultures as it pertains to relationship and business intrigued me.
An education is very important. It helps you understand how basic things in the world work and revolve. It also helps you answer why, which we should always ask. The inquisitive mind of a child ought not be stymied. So even as adults, train your brain to always want to understand things in sports, in life, in love and understand why.