INDIANAPOLIS -- Former track and field student-athlete Ifeatu Okafor, an exercise and sport sciences graduate of Texas Tech, has been named the 2013 NCAA Woman of the Year.
Okafor was selected from nine finalists during the 23rd annual NCAA Woman of the Year awards program. This award honors female student-athletes who have distinguished themselves throughout their collegiate careers in academic achievement, athletics excellence, community service and leadership.
“My heart dropped [when they announced that I was winner],” said Okafor. “All weekend I’ve been so frantic about my cardiology test coming up this week. I tend to be so tunnel vision. At that moment, everything just stopped. It was like winning conference all over again. This moment has just been absolutely amazing.”
A first-generation American whose parents moved to the United States from Nigeria, Okafor said her parents were an inspiration for her.
“My parents both grew up in Nigeria. I was the first child in my family to be born in America, so my parents were new to everything,” said Okafor. “I saw how my parents worked through all the difficulties, trying to just build a foundation for us and trying to make sure that we had everything and learning about this country. It was difficult for them, and I really have a lot of respect for them.”
Okafor was named to the academic All-Big 12 team four times. She was a finalist for the 2012 John McLendon Scholarship, which is awarded to senior-level minority students who intend to pursue a graduate degree in athletics administration, and the 2013 Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar Award, which honors undergraduate students who have excelled in the classroom as well as on the athletic field. In 2012, she earned the Big 12 Conference Dr. Gerald Lage Award, the Big 12 Conference’s highest academic honor. She graduated magna cum laude and was named in 2012 to the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) All-Academic team.
“Being a student-athlete and having to perform well in the classroom has definitely helped to develop my character,” said Okafor.”Yes, you’re going to take classes that are hard, but you’re going to have to work through it, because you’re given this opportunity.”
A four year letter-winner for Texas Tech as a thrower in women’s track and field, Okafor was the 2011 Big 12 Shot Put Champion and first-team All-American, and was twice named All-Big 12 first-team, for indoor track and field in 2011 and outdoor track and field in 2012. She currently holds the Texas Tech record in shot put for outdoor track and field.
“For me, one of my biggest accomplishments was winning conference,” said Okafor. “Coming in, I wasn’t the top recruit. My freshman year I actually came in last place at conference, and just to come back and actually win it, and being smaller than everyone else – at that moment, it was just like God confirming that he brought me here to do great things.”
Okafor served four years as a member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee at Texas Tech. During her time as a student-athlete, she regularly volunteered with Special Olympics, the local YWCA, a nearby hospital and local food bank. She also served as Texas Tech’s Big 12 Conference Student-Athlete Advisory Committee representative.
“I have just learned to be so grateful for every little thing that is given to me,” said Okafor. “Now, I really don’t have a lot, but I try to give the little bit that I have - even if it’s just my time or my energy - back to others. You’d be surprised how much you can impact someone’s life just by showing up and listening to them talk.”
Okafor is currently studying to become a physician’s assistant at Texas Southwestern, and expects to go on clinical rotations next summer.
“I love PA because it gives me the opportunity to interact with people in their most vulnerable moments in life,” said Okafor. “You meet people who are chronically ill, who’ve just gone through so much stuff in life. There’s things that people will listen to, advice that they will take, at that moment that they otherwise probably wouldn’t have taken. This is finally my chance to give back and touch lives, and I’m just so excited about it.”
When asked what advice she would give to aspiring student-athletes, she said simply that perseverance is key.
“The moment that you realize that you can handle anything that life throws at you, you’ll be okay,” she said. “If you’re going to do something - whatever you decide to do - go at it one hundred percent. Give it your all. Be a diligent worker. Be committed to serving others, because you can never be a leader without first being led. So serve others, learn to give back, be extremely persistent and diligent in all that you do and you will be fine.”
The NCAA Woman of the Year Selection Committee selected the nine finalists, and the Committee on Women’s Athletics, comprised of representatives from NCAA schools and conferences, selected Okafor from those finalists for this year’s NCAA Woman of the Year. The group of 30 honorees celebrated at the Oct. 20 event in Indianapolis was identified from a pool more than 140 conference nominees.
To be eligible for the award, a female student-athlete must have completed intercollegiate eligibility in her primary sport by the end of the 2013 spring season, graduated no later than the end of the summer 2013 term and achieved a minimum cumulative grade-point average of 2.5. Okafor is the seventh track and field student-athlete to be named NCAA Woman of the Year since the program began in 1991. Last year’s NCAA Woman of the Year was Elizabeth Phillips, a former cross country runner from Washington (Mo.).