Okoro sisters realize shared dream with ISU track


Blake Lanser/Iowa State Daily

Ejiro and Ese Okoro both came to Iowa State after attending school in London with high hopes and dreams after college.

Chris Wolff

Ese and Ejiro Okoro have been running for a long time. The twins from Birmingham, U.K., were basically born into it the sport of track and field.

Back before the Okoro twins both claimed multiple All-Big 12 accolades, both won Big 12 Conference Championships and both competed in the NCAA Championships. Ejiro and Ese got their start running at the local track on Tuesdays and Thursdays in a kids track club.

The local track, just a short walk from their house, was a place the twins frequented.

Their older siblings were involved in track and eventually their parents, who were former athletes themselves, started taking them to the track to “release some energy,” as Ese put it.

“[The track] was right up the street, so we would walk up there or our parents would take us there, and all my siblings did track as well, so it was just a normal thing,” Ese said.

Ejiro and Ese would end up doing a lot more than releasing energy in the sport of track and field.

Ese and Ejiro began to travel around England competing everywhere they could, and often winning. When it came time for college, both Ejiro and Ese wanted to attend an American university and compete in track, but ended up remaining in England instead.

“We always wanted to do a sport in America, so our passion was obviously to come here, but our dad wanted us to do our education in England,” Ejiro said.

The twins listened to Dad as Ejiro went to the University of Greenwich and Ese went to Middlesex University. For the twins, splitting up wasn’t easy.

“It wasn’t even crossing my mind that me and Ese were going to different schools,” Ejiro said. “I was looking at all the schools that had my courses, she was looking at all the ones that did hers and it wasn’t until we were leaving home to go to university that we were like, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re not [going to the same university].'”

While the separation was hard for the twins, who had been together since day one, being apart did have some advantages.

“Obviously it was different, but I think we learned how to grow and do things ourselves,” Ese said.

While they were at their separate universities in England, the dream to run track in America remained. Eventually, Ese began talking with the sprint coach on Iowa State’s previous coaching staff.

In 2011, Ese decided to come to Iowa State, and that following spring semester, Ejiro decided to follow.

“You know when you have it in your mind that you want to do something, but you don’t know how you’re going to get there, and when you get there your like ‘Oh my gosh, this is actually happening,’” Ejiro said. “It’s one of those things.”

It didn’t take long for the Okoro sisters to impress. Ejiro has become a staple in the 800-meter run, while Ese specializes in the 400-meter hurdles and the 600-meter run. However, both have shown their range throughout their careers at Iowa State by running various events.

“They’re just so athletic. Those girls could do just about anything,” said ISU assistant coach Andrea Grove-McDonough. “They have a lot of range, but they both sort of carry the torch for the mid-distance and longer sprinters over the last couple years.”

Early this year, Ejiro switched from her usual 800-meter leg of the distance medley relay team to run the one mile leg.

The result was Ejiro tracking down the race leader, who started the leg with a 50-meter head start, before Ejiro blasted past her on the final straightaway to win the race, proving her versatility.

The Okoros’ presence on the team has gone further than just their performances alone. Grove-McDonough said having them in Ames has been a valuable recruiting tool.

The ISU women’s track team has a reputation for being strong in distance events, but the Okoro twins have shown future recruits that they can compete in the mid-distance and long sprint events, as well.

“They have meant a lot to the program,” Grove-McDonough said of the twins. “A lot of Big 12 titles to their names and it’s pretty hard to replace that.”

With both Ese and Ejiro being seniors this year, they have begun to look ahead to the future.

While Ejiro looks to get a waiver from the NCAA to compete during the cross-country season next year, the duo will be finished with collegiate track after this outdoor season concludes.

“I want to run professionally and just see where I land in that,” Ejiro said of future plans.

Ese has a little more specific goal.

“Our aim is to go to the Olympics, so we’re going to take that step by step,” Ese said.

For now, Ejiro and Ese are focused on the outdoor track and field season and making the most of the time they have left at Iowa State.

When they look back to years ago when they were just little girls running around at the track to burn of energy, dreaming of competing in America someday, the word surreal comes to mind.

“We always knew it was something we wanted,” Ejiro said. “Looking back it’s just kind of surreal to think about it all.”