Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 21
 
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
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BELL LAP: Princeton University women’s track senior star Agatha Offorjebe runs away from the competition in a relay race. Earlier this month, Offorjebe won the 200-meter dash and took second in the 400 to help the Tiger women’s track team to win its first Outdoor Heps team title since 1998. This weekend, Offorjebe is headed to Greensboro, N.C. where she will run the 200 in the NCAA East Regional.

After Going from Walk-On to PU Track Star, Offorjebe Taking Last Run at NCAA Regional

Bill Alden

Agatha Offorjebe applied to Princeton University merely to fulfill a promise to her parents.

Envisioning herself as a college basketball player, the San Jose, Calif. native was sure that going to a small liberal arts school in her home state would be the best way to achieve that goal.

“My parents wanted me to apply to one Ivy League college,” recalled Offorjebe. “I told them to pick and they chose Princeton.”

While her application to Princeton may have been an afterthought, Offorjebe ended up getting accepted.

Unable to turn down the chance to get an Ivy education, Offorjebe headed east still harboring dreams of playing college hoops.

But when Offorjebe was told that she would have to serve as the manager for the Tiger women’s basketball team before getting a shot at playing, she decided to quit the sport.

Having done a little sprinting in high school as a spring sidelight, Offorjebe decided to give track a try.

Her high school coaches reached out to the Princeton track staff and she was given a shot to walk on to the squad.

While walking on to a Division I sports program can be a daunting challenge, Offorjebe wasn’t fazed.

“I don’t remember it being actually that tough,” said Offorjebe, who had competed mainly in the 100 dash in her high school career.

“I looked at the other sprinters coming in and my time was in the middle of the pack. I don’t have much experience and thought I could do better. Coach Harrington [Princeton assistant women’s track coach Thomas Harrington] was really wonderful; he encouraged me.”

It didn’t take long for the Princeton coaches to realize that Offorjebe had plenty of promise on the track. Moving up to the 200-meter dash and 400, Offorjebe became a solid contributor as a freshman.

In her sophomore year, she won the 400 at both the Indoor and Outdoor Ivy League Heptagonal championship meets.

Earlier this month, she won the 200 and took second in the 400 to help the Tiger women’s track team win its first Outdoor Heps team title since 1998.

This weekend, Offorjebe is headed to Greensboro, N.C. where she will run the 200 in the NCAA East Regional.

“Seeing that I ran as fast as I did in the Heps, I am looking to be in the 23:00s range; that would be really great,” said Offorjebe, who clocked a time of 24:09 in winning the 200 at the Heps.

“It could be my last race ever. I want to have fun and go as fast as I can. I am happy to be able to give it my all in the 200.”

Things haven’t been all fun for Offorjebe in emerging as the most decorated walk-on in program history.

In her freshman year, she cried when Harrington had her move up to the 400 in an early season meet.

“There were tears,” recalled Offorjebe, who holds the school record in the 400 with a time of 54.97.

“Everyone had told me how horrible the 400 was; I thought running the 200 was really painful. To this day, I’m still trying to get out of running the 400.”

Offorjebe also had to learn how to deal with injury in a rough junior season that saw her hampered by asthma and hamstring problems.

“You are going to have your ups and downs in sports,” said Offorjebe. “I set a personal record early in the indoor season but my body started to break down. I had OK seasons but I missed a lot of time. It showed me the importance of strength training.”

As she has competed in her final college season, Offorjebe has concentrated on living in the moment.

“The biggest thing for me senior year has been dealing with nerves,” acknowledged Offorjebe.

“I had massive expectations and I wouldn’t be able to eat on the day of a meet. I would be worrying about meets starting Thursday and Friday. This year, I am not worrying. This year, I have no expectations. I am not thinking about what I am going to do; I am just out there running.”

Clearing her head helped Offorjebe produce a superb performance at the Outdoor Heps.

“It was my first double in a while and I was a little nervous,” said Offorjebe.

“I thought I may have tapered too much; I held off a little bit in the 400. Looking at tape of 200, I see that I got out of the blocks really slowly. I am not the best out of the blocks. I thought I could catch people around the curve. I had a target. When I caught the Cornell girl [Jeomi Maduka], I saw the Columbia girl [Sharay Hale]. I just went for it. I thought it could be my last race at the Heps. It was a good dive to the tape. When I saw that my lane won, it was one of the most exciting moments I’ve had.”

PU assistant coach Harrington was not surprised to see Offorjebe pull out her come-from-behind victory in the 200.

“Ags has a heart bigger than Weaver Stadium,” said Harrington. “If she is within 10 or 15 meters, she is going to catch you. In the 200, she passes Maduka and Hale didn’t know what was coming. It was one of the greatest last five meters in Princeton history.”

In Harrington’s view, co-captain Offorjebe has done a lot more for the program than simply winning races.

“She is naturally humble; you wouldn’t know that she is so gifted from talking to her,” said Harrington, who coached the Stuart Country Day School track team to several state Prep B titles before coming to Princeton in 2005.

“There are good athletes and good people, she is great at both. I would adopt her as my fourth child. I am going to miss her. Her leadership and her presence has meant so much to our sprinters. I don’t know what we are going to do without Ags out there.”

Displaying her humility, Offorjebe said it meant a lot to her to simply get the chance to compete for the Tiger track program.

“I am so grateful to the coaches for giving me the opportunity to participate,” said Offorjebe, an ecology and evolutionary biology major who will be working in Botswana next year at a pediatric aids clinic and hopes to go to medical school someday.

“It enriched my Princeton experience. I learned how to deal with ups and downs. You experience nerves in a lot of situations. It is good to learn how to deal with them better. I learned a lot about hard work and finishing workouts strong.”

And with her strong finish this spring, Offorjebe has fulfilled her promise as an athlete.

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