I remember when I won my first U.S. title at the Olympic Trials in 2016. I wasn’t that excited about it because I didn’t jump well and I was at a place in life where I wasn’t happy unless I PR’d. I jumped 14.32m / 46-11 to win the meet that year and these are the distances I’ve jumped to win my other U.S. titles: 14.26m, 14.59m, 14.55m, 14.56m, 14.52m, 14.79m. I almost always would win USA’s and be unphased because I wanted to do better. I wanted to jump further. Other US champions would go on to be medallists, I wanted that too. Some may see this discontent mindset as a good thing because it keeps me hungry and motivated for more, but always wanting more can also be damaging. On top of that, because track and field is so numerical it creates this expectation that you always want to be as close to that personal best number as possible. It’s not just win or lose like other sports. Whenever I PR-ed I expected myself to be able to jump that distance all the time. No one really explained to me that your consistent jumps may be 20-30 cm or even more below your PB. So I was going through life winning NCAA titles, winning US titles, making Olympic and world finals, and being upset that I wasn’t better. And I definitely didn’t know that progression was NOT linear. I thought my career would look something like a perfect graph and instead it has included so many up and down years with several years without a PB. And while these competitions are happening, I'm looking at my competitors (only their good meets of course) and trying to figure out what they know that I don’t? What are they doing that I am not? I show up everyday at practice, give 100% and I expect to see those results immediately. And if I don't see the results immediately I definitely expect to see the results after years and years of putting in work, which is not always how progress works.
So after all these successful years and reminiscing on my career, I now go into competitions with 2 words: Be grateful.
I first adopted these 2 words last year when I was having one of my worst seasons (I would say it was one of my worst even though some may disagree). Last year really showed me how grateful I should have been for all the years before when certain distances and successes came so easy. In 2019, I felt like I was jumping 14.50 like it was nothing. In 2016, I jumped 14.71, 4th at the Olympics and had no idea how. In college I barely had any injuries and my body felt great at practice constantly. I just moved about life like this was all normal (what is normal? Lol) I ABSOLUTELY took it all for granted. What I accomplished throughout college and my first professional season was not normal. I was doing things people had never done in my event, but I was only able to realize that in 2021 when doing those same things were so much more difficult.
So in 2021, I vowed to myself that for the rest of my career, no matter the outcome of the competition, I would be grateful. So here I am with U.S. TITLE #8 - by far the most grateful I have ever been for a U.S. title. I am NOT taking this win for granted and I know that what I am doing has NEVER been done before in my event. And so I will rest in that and find contentment in that.
On another note, this is slightly unrelated but I also needed to get this off my chest. (I am writing this on the plane home from USA's). I have noticed my need to always reason out why my accomplishments aren’t a big deal and I know I am not the only one who does this.
“Yes I’ve won 8 U.S. titles BUT it's the triple jump”
“We only have a few women with the standard so it’s not that big of a deal”
“The event is weak so it’s easy for me to win“
Now that I am older and wiser, I know that however “weak” the event may be or however many people may have the standard - consistency is difficult. Showing up to championships and performing at a high level over and over and over again is not easy. Winning is not easy. So I will no longer explain why I have 8 US titles. I have 8 US titles because at 8 different championships I was the best American triple jumper on that day. I have backed up those titles by being the ONLY American woman to be a 2x Olympic finalist in the triple jump. I have also backed up those titles with the highest finish by an American woman at the Olympic Games in the triple jump.
I don’t say all this to brag; I share this because they are my experiences, my thoughts, my realizations, and to hopefully help athletes in a similar position learn from me. Maybe this blog was more for me than for others but these are my takeaways for myself and for anyone reading:
Be grateful for where you are TODAY and what you have today- you never know how things will change.
Be present - don’t focus so much on tomorrow that you miss out on what’s happening right now.
Don’t ever feel the need to add “BUT” to your accomplishments
You are so much more than your sport. (Not a takeaway from this blog but just a constant thing that needs to be reiterated to all athletes all the time!)
Thank you to all of my supporters!
Allow me to reintroduce myself,
Keturah Orji - K.O. - #KOtheCOMP
8x U.S. CHAMPION.
Grateful for health. Grateful for wins. Grateful for consistency. Grateful for growth. Grateful for life.