Ijey Onah

Ijeyikowoicho "Ijey" Onah, of Ithaca, took home the bronze medal in the women’s long jump at the recent Pan American U20 Athletics Championships. A former member of the Greater Ithaca Activities Center (GIAC) Navigators youth athletic program, she spoke about her athletic life, the competition and more during a press conference at GIAC on July 24. 

The competition was held in Costa Rica during the weekend of July 20-21. The event is a biennial competition for track and field athletes under age 20 from the Americas. Onah became interested in track and field through the Navigators program after realizing it was one of the few sports that involved running where a ball wasn’t involved. In high school, Onah ran for the Ithaca Little Red under field events coach John Baker, who spoke about Onah as an athlete.  

“Ijey was probably one of the most coachable kids we had in high school,” Baker said. “Whatever you ask of her, there was never a why or an ‘I can’t.’ It was ‘Okay, I’ll try and do it,’ and she did. She deserves all the credit, because as coaches, we give them guidance, but they have to get out and execute it and this is what comes to kids who work hard.”

At the Pan American competition, Onah was given six jump attempts divided into two rounds, the first three being preliminary attempts and then another three for having one of the longest jumps of contestants in the first round. Her longest jump during the competition was the fourth one. Onah’s personal record is 6.15 meters, or  19 feet and 5 inches. If she had jumped her personal best in Costa Rica, she would have tied for first place with Claire Bryant, also representing the United States. In the moment of receiving her medal and her American flag, Onah had only one thing on her mind. 

“I just kept thinking about my mom, who was back home,” she said. “She was at my big meets and this was the first or one of the first few big meets that she wasn't at. I just kept thinking, ‘Oh my God, I can’t wait to show my mom.’ My coach ended up calling her ahead of me, so by the time I got to her she was already partially in tears and ready to congratulate me.”

Today, Onah maintains a rigid training regimen to keep her skills and stamina sharp. She trains six days per week, Monday through Saturday, and lifts three times per week. She also has technique sessions twice a week, practicing long jumps specifically. 

At the competition, Onah also got to see several people from previous international meets and was glad to be surrounded by people she knew. Onah did have a problem with the language barrier, since most of the referees and officials primarily spoke Spanish, which she said inhibited her preparation.  

Currently, Onah is a student at the University of Albany with a major in business administration and a concentration in marketing. She has considered going into microfinancing and investment, since she has always been interested in stocks and bonds. For her short term goals, Onah wants to be in the top 20 of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) rankings for the long jump. Then, she wants to qualify for the NCAA’s national competition, which requires a top 16 ranking. Long term, Onah wants to represent the USA in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Some advice she gave for people looking to compete on her level is to keep dreaming big. 

“Just dream big and also, follow your gut. Sometimes when you think too hard about things, you get caught up in what you can’t do. But, thinking positively helps because you think about what you can’t do based on past experience. In the past, you couldn’t do it but who's to say in the future you can’t?”

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