Elahi, Okoro grow as hurdlers and as friends

Kianna Elahi and Ese Okoro both will compete in the 400-meter hurdles during the NCAA Track and Field Championships next week. Kianna goes into the championship ranked 10th with a time of 57.34 seconds, and Ese is ranked 21st with a time of 58.10 seconds.

Stephen Koenigsfeld

As they sat and discussed their relationship, the two track stars tried to hold back the smiles. But laughter filled the room as senior Kianna Elahi and junior Ese Okoro shared their memories of the past season.

The two said they have grown in different ways that have helped them compete and become better people. However, Elahi said it has not always been that way.

“At first, I felt a really big need to socialize with [Okoro],” Elahi said. “I liked her, but I would get mad at her during practices because I felt threatened by her. But then I started liking her.”

Okoro said she never knew Elahi was frightened by her. Okoro said she just wanted to be friendly with everybody.

Sprints and hurdles coach Nate Wiens agreed with Okoro’s statement. He said that when she first arrived on her visit to Iowa State, everyone loved her.

“When Ese came in this year, it was the icing on the cake,” Wiens said. “That was the perfect personality to really bring the whole group together.”

Throughout the season, the 400-meter hurdles have been frequently dominated by the ISU duo. The two Cyclones have progressed through the post-season ranks and are now on their way to competing in the NCAA Outdoor Championships.

“Every practice, we cheer each other on, and we’re all on the same page,” Okoro said. “We’re all together, like when we push. When one person goes, everyone else goes. You don’t want to be left behind.”

Elahi agreed with Okoro and said as far as training and an athletic standpoint goes, Okoro was a superb addition.

“Ese’s been a really good training partner,” Elahi said. “Having a good training partner makes you better, so I’m grateful that she came.”

Elahi said the two of them, along with the other two hurdlers they worked with — Krista Shoeman and Donnise Powell — connected on a spiritual level, which helped the entire team become closer to one another.

Elahi said her teammates were always encouraging throughout the season, reminding her to be thankful in her races.

“Individually, [spirituality] was part of our lives, but throughout the year it has shown we’ve shared it as a team,” Elahi said.

At this point, only Elahi and Okoro remain training for nationals. With the other two hurdlers gone, Elahi said practice has been a little different.

“It’s kind of lonely. I’m really glad we still have each other at this point in the season, but it was really nice to have all of us here,” Elahi said.

Wiens said the postseason time frame is always interesting. There is no way to tell who will be advancing during the postseason or how far an athlete will go.

“The last two weeks have been pretty enjoyable for me. Not because we lost people, but because for the last two or three years, it has just been me and Kianna training,” Wiens said. “But to have one more person to be with, to train with — it’s making it more enjoyable, for them and for me.”

As the ISU track and field teams head around the final turn and down the front stretch, there is still work to be done. With the outdoor championships and Olympic Trials in their crosshairs, these Cyclones will continue to build their friendships and their confidence.