At a time when most athletes are searching for greener pastures and seeking to run for other developed countries, US born, from Newark, NJ, Ugonna Ndu has dared to be different.
Ndu, who turns 21 today, won her first national 100m hurdles title in her maiden appearance at the recently concluded All Nigeria Athletics Championship. For many the University of Florida undergraduate looks good to step into first the shoes of erstwhile national champion Seun Adigun and in no distant future the bigger shoes of Gloria Alozie the national record holder.
Ndu, the Florida record-holder in the women’s 400-metres hurdles, is among the 19 athletes listed for the World Championships.
Here she tells AthleticsAfrica’s Tunde Eludini in Calabar her pride to be donning the colours of Nigeria, and takes us on her journey so far on the tracks.
Athletics Africa: How and why did you start athletics?
Ndu: I started athletics because soccer involved too much running back and forth. I started playing soccer when I was six but I got tired of going back and forth and going after the ball. It didn’t seem interesting any more so I just took up running. It started because at school the boys would always want to race me and I would always end up beating them so I liked it and I thought to myself, ‘If I’m faster than the boys then it means I must really be good.’ I have been running track seriously for six years now.
Athletics Africa: Did you have people you were looking up to when you started?
Ndu: I looked up to Marion Jones. I look like her and every report I ever did in school was on about her; she’s my idol.
Athletics Africa: How did your parents react to your decision to go into track and field?
Ndu: They were okay with it because my father ran track so he was happy about it. He ran all through grade school and high school but I don’t remember if he did it in college. My older siblings were involved as well though not any more while my younger brother plays basketball. Both my dad and mum supported me so it was fine.
Athletics Africa: Looking back to where you started from six years ago, are you where you want to be?
Ndu: Compared to then, I’ve made huge improvement. I’m not where I want to be because I want to do better but I’m happy at where I am right now.
Athletics Africa: How would you assess the races you have run thus far?
Ndu: I have to admit that during some races I didn’t give it my all, didn’t do my best so that was the only downfall because if I did, it makes me wonder where I will be now. Now that I have a different mindset, I think I will do way better in future.
Athletics Africa: This is your first time in Nigeria and you won your first national title in the 100m hurdles. You also rivaled the national record holder in the 400m hurdles. Why did you choose to run the hurdles?
Ndu: It’s an event that everyone seems to be afraid to do and I liked it because everyone else didn’t want it. I knew I could jump over the barriers because I was tall enough so it didn’t seem so hard. I never fell over them so competing in the hurdles is fun for me.
Athletics Africa: What have been your high moments so far?
Ndu: That must have been in college a few months ago during my home race and our conference meet. First in our home meet I ran personal bests in both of my events so that meet overall gave me the confidence I needed to run all through the season. I also ran well in the conference and that was when I was doing like four different events. I ran the relays, did both hurdles and I performed well in all of them. I just took off from there.
Athletics Africa: You ran two events in Calabar? Are you hoping to feature in more?
Ndu: I am available if they need me for the 4x100m or 4x400m but mainly I will stay in the hurdles.
Athletics Africa: What prompted to you to begin to represent this country?
Ndu: Well it’s always been a dream for me to run for my country so getting the standard, I knew I was ready to come to Nigeria and compete.
Athletics Africa: How would you assess the level of competition and your rivals in Calabar?
Ndu: I would say everybody was up to par; I’m not going to downgrade anybody because everybody runs their own way. I think the competition is good.
Athletics Africa: Are you competing at the World University Games?
Ndu: Yes I will and my target is to run well and hopefully come out with one or two gold medals.
Athletics Africa: What are you into outside athletics and how do you unwind?
Ndu: I’m studying Management so one day I’m going to come back to Nigeria and practice. I relax or hang out with friends when I’m not competing. Sometimes I might just stay home and watch TV.
Follow Ugonna Ndu on Twitter: @Le_AFRiKA