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Ndukwe has his day

Chinedum Ndukwe

Talk about having a good day.

Bengals safety Chinedum Ndukwe had the entire day Thursday when Cincinnati mayor Mark Mallory's proclamation was unveiled in a City Hall ceremony Thursday afternoon in recognition of No. 41's blitz on youth nutrition and wellness.

That's a long way from the seventh round in the 2007 draft. It's an even longer way from Abia in southeast Nigeria, where Nnenna Nduwke left in 1979 to join her husband Stephen in Morgantown, W. Va. If their story was any more American, they would make next year's Super Bowl pregame festivities.

He was pursuing his Master's in engineering at West Virginia University. She already had a nursing degree and wanted to raise children and take them back to Abia. They even went back and had the move planned for 1986, when Chinedum, the third of their four children, was one.

"The politics at home had changed and things weren't what they used to be," Nnenna Ndukwe said after the ceremony. "You couldn't talk or sneeze without getting into trouble. You didn't know if you were coming or going."

So they stayed in the States. Nnenna got her B.S. in nursing at WVU and they ended up raising a Naval officer (son Kelechi), two NFL players (Chinedum and Ikechuku of the Giants), and a third Notre Dame graduate (daughter Ezinne).  

"You never know," Nnenna Ndukwe said.

That's what her son was saying Thursday. It might not only be his day in Cincinnati. It may be one of his last days with free agency looming. It may not begin as scheduled, which is March 4, because of the collective bargaining agreement snafu. But it's coming and he hopes he gets to stay in the city that on Feb. 10 was the day for the Chinedum Ndukwe Foundation, about 90 miles from where he grew up in Columbus, Ohio.

"Crazy. You at least have to talk, right?" asked Ndukwe of the talks that broke down this week with the NFL and the NFLPA. "I'd like to be back, but I haven't heard anything. If not, there are 31 other teams. But you never know."

Nnenna Nduke didn't know she would stay in America. But she always knew she was going to give back to Abia. Now she goes back two to three times a year with supplies and medicine to run free clinics in various churches. So does Stephen. He's there now consulting for a Nigerian company and couldn't be at the ceremony.

"The big thing she really helps with is diabetes; it's rampant over there," Chinedum Ndukwe says. "She brings blood pressure medication to people that aren't usually going to get it."

On Thursday the bigshots came out for youth wellness, and a lot of them are on Ndukwe's board. Like Wael Safi, the ceremony's MC who is also the chair of the Cincinnati Health Department. And Ken Parker of the U.S. Attorney's office who is Ndukwe's chief volunteer. Also there, as he always is, was Brian Veith, his Notre Dame classmate, life-long Cincy resident, and treasurer of the foundation. The mayor couldn't make it, so city councilman Wendell Young read the proclamation.

But it was Nurse Nnenna who pounded into Chinedum the idea of never polluting his body and always staying active. The same message she drilled into her third child is the one she takes to Abia. Teaching is her favorite part of the free clinics. Ndukwe broke down when he mentioned his parents.

"The biggest thing is education," she said. "What is important to good health is simple things, like frequent hand washing. That's simple to us because we're educated."

Ndukwe turned ideas like that into the staple of his foundation. Wellness isn't his only gig. Bryan Servizzi, director of the inner city rec centers at Corryville/Mount Auburn, presented him with a framed picture of his November visit signed by the kids. And he helped 200 families this past Thanksgiving. But his favorite day from last year was the spring wellness camp at one of the Mercy Health complexes, where about 20 of his teammates showed up along with his board members to inspire underprivileged children.

"The kids were able to interact with young, successful people," Ndukwe said. "We talked about proper diet and nutrition, we had book reading sessions, we had a dentist checking their teeth. It was a great day. It exposed the kids to something they can use their whole lives."

As mothers usually do during these things, Nnenna Ndukwe was helping out Thursday. As her son scrambled for the media and cameras, he asked her to hold the picture from the rec center.

"He told me to put it in my purse," she said, shaking her head at the geometric impossibility.

She hopes getting to his games will still be a lot easier than that.

"I go to every home game. I love that he's so close," Nnenna Ndukwe said.  "I know he thinks of Ohio as his home. This is home. I'm going to pray."

You never know.

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