By JACINTA FORD
For almost every athlete, who has ever done a sport, your biggest goal is to go to the Olympics. For many, the Olympics is a dream. For Keturah Orji, it’s becoming a reality. She has made huge leaps towards a future in the 2016 Olympic games, literally.
Orji is a 17-year-old senior at Mount Olive High School in Flanders, N.J. She’s fairly new to the track and field world, yet one of the biggest up and upcoming names in the sport. In the past three years, Orji has won countless small titles along with two NJSIAA Meet of Champions, New Jersey triple jump record, No. 2 mark by American High School female and bronze medal from the International Association of Athletic Federations World Youth Championships. With marks and titles like that already under her belt, the next steps for Orji could land her in Brazil in 2014.
“Like thinking about, when I say my PRs it’s not…like I can’t believe it,” said Orji.
Orji is a solid overall track athlete all around with her specialties being in the horizontal jumps. When she first started in 2011, she initially was a sprinter. She says she didn’t notice how quick she was until she beat one of her older teammates, which was one of the top sprinters on the team at the time. That’s where Orji started to realize that track was her thing. She quickly became one of top high school girls in New Jersey dominating the 55m, 100m, 200m, 300m and 400m.
“She’s the best athlete i’ve ever seen; maybe the best athlete i’ve ever seen from the county,” said head winter track coach Joe Hehn.
Orji was born in Hoboken, N.J. and raised in Jersey City before she moved to Mount Olive during middle school. Before track, Orji had a strong athletic foundation. She was a gymnast for a few years, but quit in eighth grade to try track after gymnastics started getting too hectic. For someone this good, you would have thought she would have been encouraged to try the sport years before.
“I knew I was always fast when I used to beat all the boys,” Orji said but thought she was only “mediocre” compared to others that actually ran track.
Making Big Leaps
As if her running wasn’t enough, Orji showed even bigger talent when it came to the horizontal jumps. She started long jumping the spring season of her freshman year. She began to take over that event too at meets winning small local meets all the way to state and nation wide. As if she didn’t have enough events to do, Orji still wanted to try one more. She saw her ability in long jump and wondered what she would be able to do in the triple since it was another horizontal jump. Her spring head track coach Vanessa Benfatti, a former New Jersey track star herself, was skeptical,
“She already had so many events,” Benfatti said, but let her give it a try and it was history from there.
Jumps coach Sirajj Ziyad, a former Mount Olive athlete himself, taught Orji the phases of the jump so she would be able to try it at a duel meet. Nonetheless, on her first attempt she shocked everyone. Orji had not only won, but broke the school record, previously held by myself with Orji’s first attempts not realizing just how good she had done. Her coaches couldn’t believe it when they saw she jumped over 39 feet, a mark not hit by many high school girls except for those at a national level.
With marks like that, Orji quickly became one of the biggest recruits for coaches and worst nightmares for opposing competitors. Anyone competing against her has got to bring their A game and still be prepared for a lose.
“A lot of people don’t know that I’M Keturah,” said Orji until after the competition or see her compete because of her built and attitude.
Unlike the stereotype of athletes of her level, Orji is fairly small built and very to herself personality wise. There’s a perception that good track athletes have muscles on top of muscles and being cocky, which is the opposite of Orji. She said she’s never the type to brag or play the on-the-line mind games with opposing competitors.
“I don’t like cocky people that’s why I’m not cocky” she said “I’m not going up to someone and be like hi I’m US number 1, who are you.”
She simply does her event and moves on.
Route to the Olympics
Many acknowledge her potential and natural talents in triple jump and what it could be in the future with proper training, so it’s no surprise that almost every top division 1 track school in the country wants her on their team. With not much professional technical work, predictions of what she could possibly jump with that training predict to her being one of the best in the world period. Some predict her jumping up to 50 feet in the future, only done by a few women in the past.
This past summer Orji was able to try out for the Junior Worlds Team in the Illinois trial winning triple jump and placing second in long. With those mark, Orji made the team and competed for USA in Donetsk, Ukraine. Orji ended up bringing home a bronze medal with a personal best of 44-feet, 11-inches which technically tied China for second, but based on tie breaking next best jump awarded her with 3rd. That mark also put Orji ¾ of an inch off the national high school record.
[VIDEO: Watch Keturah jump at 2013 World Youth Games]
During this time, Orji said, “that’s when it really became part of my life.” She realized how far track could really take her. With all the training, extra camps and college visits,Orji said it becomes a challenge to keep wup with the academics,
“I don’t like the camps and missing school and visiting schools and missing school because then you have to make up all the work,” she said.
But all that would pay off, Orji had visited five of her top pick school, spent time with the teams to see if the schools would win over her heart. Florida, Georgia, Clemson, Missouri and Kansas had made it to the final cut. In the end out of the five, she announced that she would be attending the University of Georgia and become a bulldog. “I just got along with the team better,” said Orji on why she gravitated to the school. “I’m excited,” said Orji to meet new people and actually learn because “I don’t know anything about triple jump.”
For Orji, the future holds endless possibilities. “I’m going to start small; my first goal is to win conference in college which is division 1, and then win NCAA and then I want to go to world championships and win there too and I want to go to the Olympics and medal hopefully, obviously I want to win but that’s a huge goal so I just want to medal.”
Orji is working on closing out her senior year with a bang by breaking the few remaining records that she hasn’t got yet. After high school, the real training will begin. In college, her training will intensify and give her a lot more of the technique work that she’s yet to get. Technique work and more intense training is the key to getting her to reach her full potential and hopefully have her prepared for Brazil.
“I wasn’t expecting it to be like this realistic,” said Orji about the Olympics “but they’re saying like yes you can.” Hopefully we will see Orji is optomistic about representing the USA in the triple jump come 2016 in Brazil.