School: Columbia University
Marvellous Iheukwumere has had a spectacular career as a star sprinter for Columbia University’s women’s track & field team.
A two-time winner of the 200 meters at Ivy League Heptagonal Indoor Track & Field Championships, Iheukwumere recently placed first at the 2013 Metropolitan Indoor Championships. Despite her success on the field, Iheukwumere has had to also navigate the challenges of being a Black athlete at one of the nation’s most prestigious universities.
“Being a student-athlete in an Ivy League institution is an arduous commitment,” says the Nigerian native who relocated with her family to the United States at the age of nine. “Being an African-American student-athlete is even harder.”
The assumption, she says, is that some believe that Black athletes can’t handle the rigorous demands of the classroom and the field. It’s a myth that she has been working hard to dismantle.
“I’ve made a personal investment into winning,” says Iheukwumere, who credits her mother with being her inspiration. “I put a lot of time into managing my time very well. That’s the winning combination of how to do well in athletics and academics.”
During her senior year of high school in Austin, Texas, Iheukwumere was being heavily recruited by Columbia and Arizona State University to run track.
“Never in my entire life would I have imagined that a girl like me from a small town in Nigeria would come to Columbia to run track and attend one of the best schools in the world,” says the psychology major, who holds an overall grade point average of 4.0 and has aspirations of earning an MBA. “I count myself blessed and thank God for the opportunity to be here.”
Iheukwumere says that she’s inspired by the sacrifice of other Black athletes like pioneer Jackie Robinson, who helped pave the way for her to be able to compete at a predominantly White institution.
“Sometimes today, we may take it for granted that we play sports, but it is great to remember that not too long ago, African- Americans were not allowed to play on the same teams with Whites,” says Iheukwumere. “When Jackie Robinson became part of the Brooklyn Dodgers’ team in 1947, he broke the color line and, years later, African-Americans are doing well in every sport.”
At first, Iheukwumere was attracted to soccer (football in her native Nigeria), but by the time she entered middle school, she began to show an interest in track.
“What attracted me to track was the speed,” says Iheukwumere, who hopes to someday compete in the Olympics. “I run with everything I have. It’s a burst of energy and it’s great to see how well I improve with hard work and training.”
As a seasoned college athlete, she’s become fascinated with sports marketing, contracts, deals and endorsements. Whatever field she eventually chooses, she says that it will be related in some way to athletics.
Iheukwumere is also firmly committed to helping eradicate the racial inequities that still exist in society.
“I want to leave a legacy when I am gone,” says Iheukwumere. “Whether it is through my academics or athletics, I want to reach my full potential. I don’t want to allow the history of racial prejudice and discrimination to stop me from achieving what God has in store for me.”
She continues: “I envision myself being a part of great African- American leaders leading people to succeed and to conquer the strongholds of racial inequality. I want to be a part of a generation that sees the first African-American woman president of the United States of America, and a generation that sees the end of mass incarceration of African-Americans.” D