Living the American dream: Ejiro Okoro races to her best with ISU


Photo: Huiying Yu/Iowa State Daily

Ejiro Okoro, athlete at Iowa State, attends a meeting before her training Monday, Sept. 17, at the Lied Recreation Athletic Facility.

Emily Hejlik

Ejiro Okoro came to Iowa State for more than just the adventure. She wanted to experience every student-athlete’s dream — competing in the United States.

“I always wanted to go to an American school for cross-country and track,” Okoro said. “The structure for athletics in America is unbelievable, the opportunities are endless.”

Ejiro, graduate student in interdisciplinary studies, is from Birmingham, England. After high school, she competed for three years at the University of Greenwich, a British university located in London, England.

Ejiro — the first syllable is pronounced “edge” — decided to follow in her twin sister’s footsteps. Ese Okoro, her older sister by five minutes, was a major influence on a life-changing decision.

“Once Ese chose to run at Iowa State, I knew I wanted to become a part of the program,” Ejiro said.

The growing successes of the cross-country team along with the anatomy of a Big 12 university were other enticing reasons for Ejiro to become a Cyclone.

“Coming here has made me grow as person, and as an athlete I’ve become much more confident” Ejiro said. “Training here is much more intense compared to back home and I get the opportunity to practice with three of the top runners in the nation.”

This cross-country season, Ejiro ran a time of 15:32 at the Drake Bulldog Classic. One season ago, she earned third-place honors at the Big 12 Outdoor Track and Field Championships in the 800-meter run and was a member of Iowa State’s record setting 4×400-meter relay team. She posted a personal best in the 800-meter at the NCAA qualifier and earned All-Big 12 honors.

With an already solid resume, Ejiro continues to make strides.

“In her very first workout at Iowa State she struggled because she didn’t have any distance training,” said Emily Meese, Ejiro’s training partner. “She is growing so much and is growing as we speak. The sky is the limit for her.”

Not only is Ejiro a major influence against the clock — she is a team leader as well.

“She is very encouraging, and is the person who is going to pick you up in a workout,” Meese said. “Ej is never upset and always has a positive attitude, seeing the bright side in every situation. She loves running and coming to practice.”

When Ejiro’s sister was being recruited by Iowa State, the track and field sprints coach had a good relationship with a coach in England, making it easier to recruit Ejiro.

In order to recruit internationally, the coaching staff attends the World Juniors every year along with sending out numerous letters to European athletes.

International recruiting for collegiate athletics poses its challenges, but coaches in the United States can offer the total package.

“In the American system, your academics and athletics go hand-in-hand,” said assistant coach Travis Hartke. “In Europe, they have a club-type system where academics aren’t as highly regarded. I believe this is a huge reason why European athletes come here.”

Transitioning from England to America came with its demands — being homesick, missing family and friends, adjusting to the time change and only going home during holidays. These weren’t the only obstacles though.

“The breakfast was the biggest thing I had to get used to here,” Ejiro said. “The breakfast in England is much better than it is here; I couldn’t understand how people enjoyed the cereal.”

Although Cheerios and Fruity Pebbles might not ever be her favorite, Ejiro does enjoy anything having to do with chocolate.

She also embraces the situation that she has been given.

“Being involved with a group of people striving for the same goals and seeing everyone improve is inspiring,” Ejiro said. “Seeing your teammates perform at such a high level makes you want to do well.”

Ejiro credits her success to her idol, Kelly Holmes, a British middle distance runner in the late 1970s and early ’80s, along with her twin sister.

“Even though my sister and I do different events, if she performs well, I perform well,” Ejiro said. “My sister coming here definitely inspired me.”

Ejiro’s dreams don’t stop at the college level — she has even higher aspirations.

“I want to be a professional athlete and compete at the Olympics someday,” Ejiro said.