Q&A WITH… KETURAH ORJI

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Country: United States of America

Profession: Athlete – Triple jump

Career highlights:

  • 2x Olympic finalist – 4th (2016) and 7th (2020)
  • 2019 Pan American Games- silver medallist (Long Jump)
  • 2019 World Championships finalist
  • 2018 Athletics World Cup- silver medallist  
  • 2016 World Indoor Championships finalist – 4th
  • 2013 World Youth Championships Long jump – silver medallist (Long jump)
  • 2013 World Youth Championships – bronze medallist
  • American outdoor record – 14.92m

Keturah is the first female American triple jumper to be a 2x Olympic finalist.  Her 4th place finish in Rio 2016 was the highest finish by a female American triple jumper at the Olympics. She is also the first female triple jumper since 1974 to win 4 consecutive USA titles in the outdoor triple jump, won between 2016 and 2019.

Congratulations on becoming a 2 x Olympic finalist! Can you tell us what is the last thing that goes through your mind as you stare down the track before you begin your run-up?

It is usually a bible verse – 2 Timothy 1:17 – “God has not given me a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power”. Or cues that my coach has given me, so if I know my chest or knees have to be up, I remind myself of those things I have to execute before I jump.

What is the most technical part of a triple jump (for those of us non-jumpers!)?

The run-up is the most technical part, because in the end it comes down to centimetres. If you extend your foot just a bit too much, the jump could be a foul, and if your strides are too short, you lose distance on your jump. So you have to be extremely precise when you run and the way you plant your foot.

Visibility in women’s sport is so critical, especially for women of colour, and we know you are passionate about this. Can you tell us how this passion developed?

My passion for helping black women started in college when I started seeing the differences in opportunities for women, seeing differences in how people were raised and differences in available role models. I realized that there were many spaces where I didn’t see people who looked like me and because of that, I may believe that I can’t achieve those things. So, when I see black women as hairstylists or fitness influencers I am like “Okay, I can do that!”, but if I don’t see them as lawyers or doctors or whatever it is that I want to be, I may believe that space isn’t for me.

This developed my passion for mentoring young black women and girls, so that they could have role models that look like them and help them believe that they can do it too.

In general regarding visibility in women’s sports, I believe we are visible in terms of being participants in sport but we are sometimes not advertised effectively.  We need to make sure that when magazines and articles are released, we see people that look like the sport – in other words women of all shades – on the covers, in features, and in stories.

Body image is such a huge issue for so many women, and we love that you speak openly about not looking like your competitors, and being okay with that – but how tough was it for you to get to this point of peace with your own body?

My journey with body image was pretty weird because I felt like I had a normal body for a triple jumper, especially in high school and college! But over time my body started to change, and by my senior year I really became aware of it especially as during the transition of becoming an elite athlete. In college there is much more representation of different shapes and sizes, but when you get to the elite level, I feel like many of the women have the same body type and some coaches expect athletes to look a certain way for their event.

When I became a professional athlete I started comparing my body to my competitors and thinking “wow this person is really tall and skinny and I am short and not as slim”, and I started thinking that could hold me back in my event. But I eventually just had to come to terms with the fact that you cannot change your body type. There are genetics that have to do with how your body is shaped and how it changes as you get older, and I can’t change that. When I accepted that reality and owned who I am, I was able to embrace my body and what it is capable of, and that’s when I became proud of my body again. I really want to encourage others in this area because a lot of times fans, coaches or other athletes will make you feel like you don’t look like what you need to look like to be successful in your sport. Don’t listen to them, keep working hard and enjoying what you do, and your performance will speak for itself.

We came across an annual book list on your blog. Which book would you recommend every athlete reads?

For professional athletes I would recommend The Oval Office: A Four-Time Olympian’s Guide to Professional Track and Field by Lauryn C. Williams. The book is about being a professional athlete, how to navigate the world and reality of contracts, agents, prize money and so much more.

I would also recommend The Millionaire Next-door by Thomas J. Stanley and Atomic Habits by James Clear. The first because I feel a lot of times people think to become wealthy you need to do something extremely crazy or have a super successful business idea. This book talks about how creating wealth actually comes from living below your means, being wise about your financial decisions and investing money consistently -rather than the idea of choosing and waiting for that one perfect stock to go up or that one special business idea to go viral.

Atomic Habits talks about how our habits and how a lot of everyday things we do are automatic for us and we don’t even realize. This book can help athletes specifically because if you can create habits in your sport, you can eventually get to a point where you do things without overthinking because it becomes natural, and your body will automatically do it.

Where is your happy place?

My bed😊 After the intense work on the track and training, I am always happy to get home, shower and lay in bed.

My second happy place is anywhere with my friends and family, where we are just hanging out relaxing and enjoying each others company, playing games. I really enjoy spending time with other people and having great conversations.

We read that you speak Spanish – what made you want to speak this language in particular?

I have always been fascinated by languages and people who are multilingual. My dad is Nigerian, so he speaks Igbo and although he didn’t teach us the language in its entirety this was my introduction to communicating the same words in a different way. Throughout classes when I was still young and learning Spanish, I was always thinking to myself ‘this is so cool’ so I took the advantage of having the opportunity to learn other languages. Even when I had teammates in college from Greece and Estonia, I would ask them how to say some words in their language. I think it is fascinating to be able to speak to someone else in a different language.

Follow Keturah’s journey on Instagram @ktorr1 and visit her website www.KeturahOrji.com where she writes blogs.