Shannon-Ogbani Abeda will soon don a ski suit hued with the vibrant colors of the Eritrean flag as the country makes its Winter Olympic debut this February.
Born and raised in Alberta by immigrant parents from the East African nation, the 21-year-old has spent most of his life nestled in the Rocky Mountains and grew up barreling down its powder-white slopes.
Although oceans away from the native land his father and mother fled in the early 1980s when they came to Canada as refugees, the computer science student says he wears both national identities with pride.
“I have grown up here with a lot of friends who are Canadian but I also have that connection inside to who I am as an Eritrean,” says the Calgary-based Abeda, who made the decision to compete for his parents’ birth country in 2011. “I’ve been very humbled by the response and support I’ve received, especially from the Eritrean-Canadian community. They look up to me and I never imaged myself being in that position.”
It has been an arduous journey for the second-generation Canadian, who first came onto the world stage at 16 years old, representing Eritrea at the 2012 Youth Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria. He says that event opened his eyes to the level of international competition he’d be facing.