SportStars Magazine

Chinyere Okoro: From Stage To Podium And Back

Chinyere Okoro, Amador Valley, Track

Amador Valley Sprinter Chinyere Okoro Has A Love For Performance Art — But Has No Time For Drama As She Chases State Gold •

For sprinting sensation Chinyere Okoro, her world is a stage. Actually, there are two stages.

The first is track and field, where the Amador Valley High-Pleasanton senior has soared to the ranks of California’s elite in the 100 and 200 meters.

Then there is theater, which fuels Okoro’s love for drama and performing.

Chinyere Okoro, Amador Valley, Track

Amador Valley senior Chinyere Okoro entered the CIF State Championships with the state’s No. 2 ranked time both the 100 and 200 meters. (Jean-Paul Toshiro photos)

She will pursue her parallel crafts at the next level when she heads to the University of Oregon in the fall. Whether it’s acting, singing or running the 100 in front of large crowds, it brings out something special in Okoro. It also draws her out of her quieter side.

“I think drama boosts up your confidence, too,” she said. “Just knowing that you have to act in front of a lot of people. That definitely can create a good mindset on the positive side.”

She will bring plenty of positive momentum to the CIF State Championships on May 24-25 at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Clovis. She set the stage with a double win in the North Coast Section Meet of Champions finals on May 18, winning the 100 in 11.65 seconds and the 200 in 24.42.

Based on marks as of May 15 at www.athletic.net, Okoro’s top times this season of 11.57 in the 100 set at the Sacramento Meet of Champions, and 23.94 in the 200 at the Arcadia Invitational put her second in the state in both events. The leader in each is Calabasas’ De’Anna Nowling, the defending state champ in the 100.

Notably, both of those times by Okoro are school records. She broke her own Amador Valley record at Arcadia in the 200 that she set as a junior.

Okoro’s mother, Tiffany, also serves as her coach. Tiffany was a runner who pursued a professional career under Maurice Compton and Ray Norton, both of whom ran for the legendary Bud Winter of Speed City fame.

But if you have pegged Chinyere Okoro as an amazing running prodigy who was running and competing from the time she could walk, you are wrong. 

She faced challenges from the outset. In a recent interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, she talked about being born two months early, with a hole in her heart that eventually closed without surgery, and a right foot that required a special boot for her early years.

As a youth she played a wide variety of sports. Only in the last couple of years has she set her focus solely on track.

Chinyere Okoro, Amador Valley, Track

Chinyere Okoro crosses the finish line during a 100 meter heat at the NCS Tri-Valley Meet on May 11.

“I was slow, I was last all the time,” Chinyere Okoro said of her early days of trying track, when her interests spanned from basketball to tennis to volleyball to track.

“As she got older and started to learn about the competitive side of it , she started to pick up really liking track and field and we just stuck with it,” Tiffany Okoro said. “She was really good at tennis and track. I told her she would have to choose one and focus on the one.”

Okoro began high school at Amador Valley’s cross-town rival, Foothill. She didn’t run track for the Falcons her freshman year, but competed unattached in some college meets. “That definitely pushed me and I knew I could go somewhere with track,” she said.

She transferred to Amador Valley for her sophomore year, but found mixed results in track with little postseason glory. With guidance from her mother, Amador Valley head coach Jason Oswalt and Dons sprints coach Barney Stocking, it began coming together.

It began to click in her junior year — notably at the 2018 Arcadia Invitational, where Okoro established herself by winning the 200 meters. The experience was an eye-opener.

“It was really interesting because other people come out from different areas, and that is the most exciting thing about track and field,” she said. “And they all have around the same time as you. In Arcadia, everyone comes and competes. You get pushed. And that is the thing of beauty of track and field. Getting pushed and accomplishing your own goals.”

One big change has been determination, Oswalt said.

Chinyere Okoro, Amador Valley, Track

Okoro practices her start prior to her 200 meter heat at the NCS Tri-Valley Meet.

“When she came in as a sophomore, it was more a question of ‘How much do you like this?’ And I didn’t have any answer for that then,” he said. “I am not sure what changed, but when she came back as a junior she was showing that, ‘I like this and I have invested in it.’”

The attitude and ability she showed were impressive. But that all came crashing down in an abbreviated postseason. A hamstring injury that she initially thought was mild proved troublesome. The decision was made to shut her down — no NCS Meet of Champions or CIF State Championships. 

She realized how much track meant to her.

“When she had the injury at the league meet, she really felt a sense of loss for the first time,” Oswalt said.

With her potential evident, Okoro was getting college offers. She decided on Oregon during the summer.

“I am very excited for Oregon because I definitely can p.r. and just try to run in the professional circuit,” she said. “That is definitely my goal. At first it was a little tough, knowing UCLA, UNLV and San Diego were the top ones. I knew Oregon was a choice, too. At first I was a little hesitant on which school I was going to go to. I am glad I picked Oregon.”

Healthy and even more determined, Okoro accelerated to high gear.

“Coming in she was little more hungry and wanted to prove she could do better than what she did last year,” Tiffany Okoro said.  “She created a lot of goals for herself, and has been meeting them as she has been progressing through the season. She has been definitely on the mark.”

With accolades and attention on her own accomplishments, she really cherishes the team aspect. At the NCS Tri-Valley meet, she ran as part of the 1600 relay. Oswalt said she doesn’t even really like that event. It’s about the team for her.

“It’s about camaraderie,” he said. “We ask our seniors to write down what was their best experience. And with everything she has won, she wrote down that she was excited when she was on the relay and they worked together and made the NCS Meet of Champions finals as a sophomore. 

The view most often seen by Chinyere Okoro’s opponents.

“Sometimes people get the wrong idea because she is so serious that she doesn’t enjoy every opportunity. Obviously that means a lot for her to be part of the team.”

Okoro has found motivation and inspiration to be reciprocal.

“My teammates always lift me up, and my coaches as well,” Okoro said. “It’s definitely a big blessing. It also loosens up my mindset as well. I am glad I have a team that encourages me.”

She’ll continue to seek that double, the 100 and 200, in Clovis. And there are more doubles ahead.

There’s Eugene, the City that Nike Built. And Oregon, the Land of Shakespeare Festivals.

Sounds like an ideal match for Act II. Twice over.

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