Bound for new heights
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Nine consecutive state tournament titles, several school records shattered and a seemingly endless number of medals, awards, ribbons and trophies later, senior track and field star Chinne Okoronkwo is on her way to etching her name as one of the most accomplished athletes to ever come out of MTHS.
But throughout this whole process, Okoronkwo’s eyes have been set on something much bigger and much better than any accolade that could be had in the realm of high school track and field.
Her eyes are set on the five-ringed sports tradition that brings the world together and brings out the love one has for their country – the Olympics.
Throughout her journey, she hasn’t been alone. Okoronkwo has surrounded herself with people who are going to be positive for her journey, with none of them having a more profound impact on her life than her Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) coach Nate Wilford whom she trains with twice a week in Tacoma.
“[Wilford] has taught me so much about the triple jump,” Okoronkwo said. “But not just that. He’s taught me about the lifestyle that you have to have in order to be an elite athlete.”
What sometimes gets overshadowed by the glitz and glam of the medals and the recognition is the lifestyle of an elite athlete: the choices that they must make every day in order to keep their body and their habits in tip-top shape.
“You have to fine-tune your life to fit what you need to do, so the way I eat is based off of what competitions are coming up and what I have to do for the season. That’s always changing depending on my schedule for track and field and of course getting the right amount of sleep and not going crazy from other things is part of the lifestyle too,” Okoronkwo said.
With a recommendation from her coach, Okoronkwo and all of her AAU teammates have cut all sources of gluten and dairy out of her meals while cutting corn products.
“There’s definitely no fast food. You’ll never catch [the track team] at McDonald’s,” she said with a laugh.
Okoronkwo believes that this diet has had a “tremendous” effect on her overall health.
Coupled with her diet is her intense training regimen.
“I usually train five to six days a week,” Okoronkwo said. “I compete and I train year-round so track never actually stops for me. It typically depends on what competitions I do but I really don’t ever take a month off of track. I might take a week off, but even if I take that off, I’ll still jog or do drills.”
Through adjusting herself to the lifestyle of that of an elite athlete, she has become obsessed with fitness and keeping her body at its best.
“I feel uncomfortable if I stop working out for a while. I actually feel a lot healthier and overall better when I work out. When I stop, I also don’t really know what to do because I love working out,” Okoronkwo said.
With every elite athlete, there comes a moment when they realize their potential for greatness and begin taking their athletics much more seriously.
“I would say my ‘moment’ came in my freshman year,” Okoronkwo said. “I was number one in the nation for the freshman class. That was when I was like ‘wow I could really do something with this,’” she said. From there, Okoronkwo said she looked at the records set by track stars in college and would compete against those numbers. “That’s when I thought, ‘I could really get a scholarship from this and I could possibly go to the Olympics.’”
Throughout her high school years, it’s not her accomplishments that necessarily define her but more so her attitude when it comes to competing.
“Whenever I compete, I have to be happy with what I do and think, ‘when I walk away from this meet, am I going to be happy with what I just did?’ In order to be happy with it, I have to do my best. It’s more of a competition against myself than it really is a competition against everyone else,” she said.
Coming into this year, Okoronkwo was the state record-holder in both the triple jump (41-10¼), which was ranked fourth in the nation among prep competitors, and the pole vault (13-3), ranked eleventh in the nation. After the most recent state tournament, Okoronkwo leaped over another record and set a new one for the long jump, an event that she very seldom participated in during the season. With her athleticism, her positive attitude, and the skills that she’s honed from competing around the world, she was still able to break a record.
“I’m always pretty happy when I set records like those but I always think ‘oh, I could’ve done that much better or set it that much higher.’ I’ve always just wanted to set the records higher and higher,” Okoronkwo said.
Coupled with the records that she’s set, she was recognized by Gatorade and awarded with one of the most prestigious accolades in all of high school sports: the Washington state women’s track and field Gatorade Player of the Year for 2015. The funny thing being that when Okoronkwo received the award, she didn’t even know she had been entered as a candidate.
“I actually didn’t know that [MTHS track and field] coach Russ Vincent entered me into the contest so I had no idea that I was even up for it,” Okoronkwo said. “I didn’t know what it meant at first but I have a lot of friends from other states and they were all getting this award. I had friends from all over the country get it and it was awesome to see all of us receive it together.”
Although she is at the end of her high school athletics career, her eyes are still set on the Olympics.
“I would love to compete in the Olympics. I think that’s a goal that a lot of athletes have. Competing for [your] country and going to the Olympics would be an amazing experience,” Okoronkwo said.
Being a great high school athlete means scouts and coaches from the collegiate level, come from all over the country in order to persuade the prospect to come to their school and be their “next big thing.”
“The process is very tiring. It feels like a such a big decision because you’re deciding where you’re going for the next four years of your life, so you don’t want to make the wrong decision.”
However, Okoronkwo said she knew exactly what she wanted while choosing her school. She weighed her options and picked her future school based on what my major is going to be, location, weather and the size of the school, she said.
Okoronkwo ultimately narrowed it down to seven universities, before committing to becoming a Badger at the University of Wisconsin in the land of the cheeseheads.
“I chose Wisconsin because they had everything I wanted. When I went on my visit to their school, I saw they had the major that I wanted which is a major in interior architecture and I fell in love with the school. I remembered after the visit, I called my mom and told her that this is where I need to go,” Okoronkwo said.
Academics aside, she also loved the athletics program and the coaching staff that was there at the school. She said that the coaching style of the staff that was there was perfect for her and her learning style.
“I’m really excited to start a new chapter of my life,” Okoronkwo said. “I haven’t stopped to think about any of my fears because I’ve just been so excited.”