On the Right Track – Christiana Nwofor

On the Right Track – Christiana Nwofor

Years of training and competition typically prepare a young athlete for college-level sports. Rarely does the athlete who takes up a new sport in college become almost immediately competitive.
Oberlin College senior Christiana Nwofor can count herself among that rare breed of athlete whose talent, dedication and intelligence has made up for years of inexperience. Just two and a half years ago, Nwofor, then a sophomore at Oberlin, took up track and field to become a sprinter. Over the past three seasons, including the one currently under way, Nwofor won recognition twice as an all-star in the National College Athletic Association’s Division III conference in which she competes.
“She has developed into one of our premier sprinters and as a very effective team leader,” says Tom Mulligan, coach of the Oberlin women’s track and field team.
That Nwofor is a top-notch student and researcher helps explain her drive and steely determination to succeed at the challenges she tackles.
“I really work hard,” she says. Her achievements in the classroom as a biochemistry major have won her admission to the Harvard University Medical School, where she will enroll in the fall of 2000. As a junior, Nwofor was inducted into Oberlin’s Phi Beta Kappa chapter for her academic achievements.
The child of Nigerian parents, Nwofor grew up in the French-speaking, West African nation of the Ivory Coast. Although her schools provided her with rigorous academic preparation, they lacked American-style sports programs, which emphasize inter-school competition.
“[My wife and I] were very concerned that track and field would interfere with her studies. But we saw that she was really enjoying herself, and she continued to do well academically,” says Emmanuel Nwofor, Christiana’s father and a banker with the African Development Bank in the Ivory Coast.
Dr. Norman Craig, an Oberlin chemistry professor, credits Nwofor with having the skills and the aptitude that would make her an excellent physician and science researcher. “She has good experimental skills and learns quickly,” he says.
Nwofor worked as a researcher under Craig during the summer after her sophomore year. She will receive co-authorship credit with Craig for an article to be published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry by the end of the year.
“The research was sponsored by a National Science Foundation grant that I hold, and I decide on which students I believe are strong researchers to assist me,” Craig says, noting that Oberlin faculty have only undergraduates available to help them in research.
“I thought of Christiana as a very good candidate. She writes well and she’s quite able in the laboratory,” he adds.
In addition to summer research at Oberlin, Nwofor spent the summer after her junior year working as a researcher at Yale Medical School. She also  has volunteered her time working with children at a hospital in Cleveland.
Mulligan says the dedication and commitment Nwofor brought to track and field is indicative of why she has excelled in the classroom. He adds that it is rare even for  people with significant athletic ability to start out in college in track and field and become highly competitive in a short period of time.
“The biggest challenge is having the ability to develop the personal training habits that are going to help you succeed. It means listening to your coach and believing in what you’re hearing. Track is really a sport of preparation and paying attention to details,” Mulligan says.
Nwofor tried out for track and field after having played on the Oberlin women’s volleyball team during her freshman year. Asked to try out for the team by an Oberlin coach, Nwofor says volleyball was another sport that she had not played seriously as a teenager. She later went out for track because she thought she would have more of an opportunity to participate in competition.
“I spent a lot of time sitting on the bench,” Nwofor says of the volleyball experience.
Now in the midst of her last outdoor track and field season, Nwofor has been nursing an ankle injury that has limited her activity since the close of the indoor season earlier this year. Mulligan believes that Nwofor, despite her injury, will be essential to Oberlin winning the conference meet next month.
“We’re knocking on the door of a championship. While we have good talent, you have to have good leadership. [Christiana’s] a big part of that,” Mulligan says.  



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