Former Georgia track and field standout and financial planning major Keturah Orji has been named the 2018 NCAA Woman of the Year.
The Woman of the Year Award, created in 1991, recognizes graduating female student-athletes who have distinguished themselves in athletics, academics, leadership and community service. Orji is the fourth Georgia student-athlete to receive the award in its 28-year history, joining former Georgia swimmers Lisa Ann Coole (1997), Kristy Kowal (2000) and Kimberly A. Black (2001). Orji accepted the award at a banquet honoring the Top 30 honorees in Indianapolis on Sunday.
“It’s such an honor to be part of this group of talented, dedicated, intelligent and caring women, and I want to congratulate them also,” Orji said as she accepted the award. “The NCAA Woman of the Year Award is exceptional because it honors that we are more than remarkable athletes… Today, I want to encourage everyone here – especially my fellow honorees – to continue raising the bar for future women and setting a high standard. We are all paving a path for the future.”
Orji — a captain on Georgia’s track and field team — led the Bulldogs to a team indoor track and field national championship in 2018. She is also an eight-time individual NCAA national champion: four times in the outdoor triple jump, three times in the indoor triple jump and once in the outdoor long jump. Orji is also a 15-time U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association first-team All-American and four-time USTFCCCA National Women’s Field Athlete of the Year.
She currently holds the American and collegiate records for the indoor triple jump and the collegiate record for the outdoor triple jump. Orji is the only woman in history to be a three-time finalist for The Bowerman. Her dominance in the sport earned her a spot on the U.S. national team, and she competed in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Orji now competes professionally for the Atlanta Track Club, where she is focusing on qualifying for world championships in 2019 and then hopefully the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
“My proudest achievement was competing in Rio and finishing fourth there,” said Orji. “It was a dream come true. I performed really well there, against people I used to watch on TV, and it was just an overall great experience and very memorable.”
Orji performed at an elite level academically, as well. She was a 2018 Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar and was inducted in two campus honor societies: Georgia’s Sphinx Club honor society, the oldest honorary society in Georgia history; and Blue Key Honor Society, whose members are committed to leadership in student life, high scholastic achievement, service to others, citizenship and adherence to principles of faith.
Orji was named the USTFCCCA Division I Outdoor Field Scholar-Athlete of the Year three times and the Indoor Field Scholar-Athlete of the Year once. She was also a three-time Southeastern Conference Women’s Track and Field Scholar-Athlete of the Year (twice for outdoor and once for indoor), and in 2017, she received the university’s Joel Eaves Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award, presented to the female student-athlete who has the highest GPA entering her senior year. She received the SEC’s H. Boyd McWhorter Postgraduate Scholarship and is now pursuing a graduate degree at Georgia.
Orji’s proudest academic achievement was her selection as the outstanding senior of the year in the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences.
“The fact that my professors chose me as an all-around person to represent the senior class made me feel great, because I didn’t think that my professors thought that way about me. I thought they just saw me as a good athlete,” Orji said.
Orji embraced a leadership role at Georgia. In addition to her years as a team captain for Georgia’s track and field program, she spent three years serving the athletics community as a member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, including serving as vice president during her senior year.
One key theme of Orji’s collegiate experience involved mentorship of others. Citing the impact of an experience she had as a mentee earlier in college, she founded an organization in 2017 called Amara’s Pride. Amara – the first part of her middle name – means grace or gift in Nigerian, and pride references a lion’s pride.
“We give them love no matter what, no matter their situation or how they feel,” Orji said. “I always told them that… they should stick together, they should be one, they should be strong.”
The after-school mentoring program for middle school girls focused on self-worth, the importance of education, social media influences and the power of perseverance. The meetings sometimes featured guest speakers, and at their last session they focused on health and wellness, an issue that Orji said impacts African American women more than almost any other demographic.
Orji was also a United Team leader, through which she mentored her fellow student-athletes in weekly small groups and Bible studies. Beyond her roles as a mentor on and off campus, Orji also spent time during the holidays with children whose parents were incarcerated and put her financial planning expertise into practice by working with an income tax assistance program in the community.
The top 30 national honorees and nine finalists — determined by the NCAA Woman of the Year selection committee — were selected from a pool of 154 conference honorees. From the nine finalists, the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics, composed of representatives from NCAA schools and conferences, selected Orji as the Woman of the Year.
To be eligible for the award, a female student-athlete must have completed eligibility in her primary sport by the end of the 2018 spring season, graduated no later than the end of the summer 2018 term and achieved a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.5. Last year’s NCAA Woman of the Year was Lizzy Crist, a former soccer student-athlete at Washington U. in St. Louis.