Photo courtesy of MT Athletics
Only few college athletes can become champions or reach the professional level, but even fewer are able to set world records. Middle Tennessee State track runner and senior Abike Egbeniyi is one of the fastest people, not only in Tennessee or the United States, but in the world. However, Egbeniyi’s road to the record books is not a traditional one.
Egbeniyi from Lagos, Nigeria, and is the second youngest of seven and the first of her family to come to America. Becoming a student-athlete in America was something she could not imagine.
“For me to come to MTSU as a track athlete was a huge accomplishment,” Egbeniyi said.
Egbeniyi was doubted by everyone when she had dreams of coming the United States, even her own family.
“There was a lot of negativity back home, and people would say, ‘Abike you can’t do it. Why can’t you just stay back home? Why are you trying to go America?’” Egbeniyi said. “So whenever I think back to that, I’ll just say, ‘Abike you need to move forward.’”
The track star did move forward by becoming the fastest female in the U.S. and the second fastest in the world in the 800m race. She ran the 800m in 2:03.77 at the Vanderbilt Invitational on Jan. 19, and it is also the fastest indoor 800m time by any Nigerian woman in history.
However, Egbeniyi was unaware of her record-shattering time in the moment. She even surprised herself with her new time.
“Afterwards, coach told me, and I was just like, ‘Wow. I didn’t know I could run so fast,’” Egbeniyi said.
Egbeniyi is more decorated than just one record too. She is a C-USA Champion in both Indoor and Outdoor Track and Field. She finished first in the Indoor and Outdoor 400m, 800m and 4×400 relay. However, she came just shy of her ultimate goal last season. In the 2018 NCAA Division I Outdoor Championships, she placed second, but she is coming back for the throne this year.
“There’s some more (to accomplish). I want to win the NCAA Tournament because the last time, I was second overall,” Egbeniyi said. “So my mission is to just win it and after that become a professional, by God willing.”
Egbeniyi is aware of how much of a privilege it is to participate in college athletics, and she does not take her opportunity for granted. For Egbeniyi, back home in Nigeria, school and athletics could not co-exist, and America provided her the chance to do both at MTSU.
“In Nigeria, it’s very hard for you to balance education and track, so once you are in school it’s hard to focus on athletics,” Egbeniyi said. “But here in America, they give chances like foreign aid and the opportunity to be in class and go to practice.”
With graduation on the horizon, Egbeniyi will turn her attention to becoming a professional track athlete, the first of her family. Then her biggest goal will take shape, and she is already laying the foundation for her highest aspiration: the Olympics.
Nevertheless, after the Olympics, Egbeniyi said she will retire her track shoes. Most people don’t realize the endurance and conditioning that track athletes have to maintain, especially to be consistently at the top of the field in nearly every category like Egbeniyi.
“Let me be a professional before going to the Olympics, but after the Olympics, I would just cut it off, because it’s stressful,” Egbeniyi said. “I’m not going to lie to you, it’s fun but very hard.”
Yet, she has experienced success beyond her dreams. But the initial challenge was convincing herself that she could make it to the states.
“The biggest challenge for me was just coming to America because I kept thinking, ‘I’m not going to make it,’” Egbeniyi said.
Egbeniyi will wrap her senior season in spring 2019, as the Indoor season is coming to a close with NCAA Championships being held on March 2. She will also participate in the Outdoor season when it kicks off on March 16.
Now that she has earned all the accolades she holds, she looked back at her time of being a student athlete in America as a privilege that no one in her family was ever able to experience.
She knows how special her time has been at MTSU and the platform it has provided her to take the next step in her career that she so desires.
“It’s been a huge experience, and I’m so happy,” Egbeniyi said.