By Jason Cohen
Some dreams do come true. Keturah Orji of Mt. Olive, has been an athlete her entire life and now her fantasy of being in the Olympics is a reality.
On July 7, Orji, 20, qualified for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil when she jumped 14.60 meters in the triple jump. Her jump not only put her as the top U.S. triple jumper, but ranks her fourth in the world.
“It was kind of surreal that it happened,” Orji exclaimed. “It’s like wow I’m going to the Olympics. I think I’m not going to grasp it until I’m there.”
Orji’s athletic career started with gymnastics in second grade, but she found her true calling in high school on the track.
She started out sprinting and then transitioned to the long jump. In 2013, things began to change. Orji won the U.S. Outdoor Nationals track and field event in North Carolina and later that year, joined the World 18 and Under Youth Track and Field Team. That team competed in Ukraine at the World Youth Games and she received a bronze and silver medal.
“I think this is when I knew I was at the elite level of track and field,” she remarked.
She broke high school, county and state records for the triple and long jump. In 2014, she began her collegiate career at the University of Georgia, where she credits her coach Petros Kyprianou with making her a better jumper and runner.
“When I came to college I didn’t really know how to jump at all,” Orji said.
Some of Orji’s achievements include: 2015 Southeastern Conference Indoor, Outdoor Champion (triple jump), 2015 First Team Indoor All-American (triple jump), 2015 Second Team Indoor All-American (long jump) and the 2015 NCAA Outdoor Champion (triple jump).
While no one in her family is a track star or Olympic athlete, she credits her success to her parents Nicole and Anthony. Orji recalled that during her freshman year in college she felt a lot of pressure and would often pray with her mom before races.
Her mother who is still on cloud nine, spoke to the Mt. Olive News about her daughter. As Keturah began to shatter records, she and her husband had to quickly learn what the triple and long jump were, she said.
When she won nationals in 2013, Nicole knew her daughter had what it took to compete at the next level.
“That was the first time that I got the idea that she was going to go somewhere with this triple jumping,” she said. “She always had a dream to go to the Olympics. We knew if she stayed healthy she could go to the Olympics.”
However, getting to Rio, lodging and watching Keturah compete will be a challenge. She and her husband will be traveling with their other children, Linda, 29, Anthony, 23 and Rachel,15. In order to help them with these financial burdens, she started a crowdsourcing fundraiser online at https://www.gofundme.com/KOJUMPER. So far it has raised $10,000 with a goal of $30,000.
Her mother has purchased airfare and made reservations at a hotel, but still has not heard back from the U.S. Olympic Committee about tickets. They are only permitted two free tickets and two extra ones, so one child will be sitting with random people.
Nicole, who could hardly contain her emotions, said she will find a way to see her daughter represent America in the Olympics.
“I don’t really know what to expect down there,” Nicole said. “I’m ready to do what I have to do to get down there.”