Marvellous “Marvie” Iheukwumere is a Nigerian 100m/200m sprinter who has a passion for helping people and using her talents to glorify God. Born and raised in Aba, Nigeria, she moved to Austin, Texas in 2001. Marvellous graduated from Columbia University (class of 2014) with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. Her honors include: 2014 Nigerian Nationals Finalist (200), 8x Ivy League Conference Champion, 2x NCAA Division I Qualifier, 2x NCAA Division I Academic All-American, 2014 NCAA Ivy League Woman of the Year, 2014 Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar, 2012-2014 Mellon Mays Research Fellow, and the 2012 New Balance Armory Women’s College Athlete of the Year. Marvellous currently holds the school record in the 100 m dash and her 60, 100, and 200 m times are on the all-time Ivy League lists. Aside from her athletic achievements, she also graduated in the top 10% of her class and is a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Honors Society.
What’s your story?
I moved to America (Austin, TX) when I was nine years old, because my parents won the US Visa Lottery which came with free green cards. I hated America and I wanted to go back to Nigeria every single day. The kids and my teachers teased and bullied me, and I felt like an outsider for a while. To help me to make friends, my mom signed me up for a select soccer club. She wanted me to be happy, and was working two jobs to provide for our family. I was 10 at the time, but I had been playing unorganized soccer in Nigeria since I was 5, so naturally I excelled. I dabbled in basketball for about 3 years, but didn’t start running competitive track until high school. I attended a magnet high school which was academically rigorous, so my mom advised me to focus on one sport. I chose track because it was more fun to me than soccer and basketball, and I loved the freedom and feeling of happiness I got when I ran. My high school coaches (LaBoris Bean and Leonard Brantley) noticed my talent and devoted a lot of their time into making me one of the best high school sprinters in Texas. In four years I blossomed from a shy freshman to a bold senior who would go on to place 3rd at the State Championships.
Yet, while I racked up awards in high school for track, I never really thought that track would pave a way for me to go to college. My parents didn’t go to college in America, so they didn’t understand the scholarship system and instead continued to urge me to do well in my studies. I wasn’t completely aware of the process either, until the summer after my junior year in high school. I was getting calls and emails from big DI track schools like Arizona State and Ohio State, but I wasn’t sure what to do. I had some guidance from my high school coaches and counselors, but I was still lost. I ended up going to Columbia University, because it was the only Ivy League that recruited me, and my mom thought it would be a great opportunity for me to get a great education and also continue to run track. I wanted to go to Arizona State, and was getting ready to sign a Letter of Intent with them, but then I listened to my mom and went with Columbia. Some people were shocked and said things like, “Why are you going all the way to New York City? You could have just gone to UT? Do they even have a good sprints program?” And some of my high school classmates would say, “You only got in because you’re a good athlete.” Despite the critics, I believed that God had provided the opportunity to attend Columbia and it was a gift I couldn’t pass up.
When I think about my experience at Columbia, I thank God for the gift. I was able to attend a school I never dreamt of going to, a school where people thought I wouldn’t succeed, a school my parents could not afford, all for free. When I got to Columbia, I vowed to work hard and to leave a legacy there. I told myself that I had to make the best of the opportunity, and with the support of my family, and by God’s grace, I did. I didn’t know a soul when I went to Columbia, I had no family there, but I went there on a mission and I was determined to succeed as a student and as an athlete. I sacrificed a lot to be able to graduate from Columbia with a 3.9 GPA and also to compete at the Division I level. Yet, all of the pain and hard work grew and matured me tremendously. I experienced so many injuries during my time in college, but I persevered through all of them. My senior year was the most trying season of my career, but also rewarding. I found out that I had a needle that had been stuck in my foot for five years and it was pinching the metatarsal joint in my big toe and was causing a lot of pain. As a result, I was sidelined for most of my outdoor season.
However, after only competing in two meets, I was able to run my college PB in the 100, and also received an invitation to run in the 2014 Nigerian National Championships. Given the short time between my graduation, NCAAs, and the Nigerian Nationals, I forewent toe surgery and just fought constantly with the pain. Fast forward to June, I didn’t make it to the next rounds of NCAAs so I went to Nigeria to run. It was my first time running in Nigeria, and my first time home in 6 years. I was ecstatic and tried to use the excitement to mask the pain in my toe. Despite all of these circumstances, I placed 5th overall in the 200 m dash, but also missed qualifying for the 2014 CommonWealth Games by one spot. I was disappointed, but also happy that I got the experience. I spent more time at home visiting my family members and this helped me to become hungrier to return and qualify to represent Nigeria. However, in order to do this, I knew I had to take care of my toe situation, so I decided to take the year off, go through the surgery, and let my body heal completely.
In August 2014, I went through successful toe surgery, and also started a full time position working for the National Basketball Association (NBA). I had interned for the league during my junior year in college and knew that I wanted to create a long-term career for myself in Sports Law and Business. I have a passion for sports and love how it can be a platform for so many great things! I had an amazing time working for the NBA and in just one year, I got to experience life changing moments and organize cool events like the NBA All Star Game, NBA Draft, NBA Finals, and so much more. I got to meet and work with so many of my favorite players. It was and still is my dream job, but I knew that my story on the track wasn’t done. I was so dedicated to getting back on the track that I kept working out even with my busy work schedule. I would wake up at 4 am to lift at 24 HR Fitness, and then I would do my track workouts after work. I couldn’t give up because I knew that I hadn’t used up all of my potential on the track and I was determined to close out my track and field chapter. I also kept getting opportunities to train with great coaches and to try out for the Nigerian Olympic team. This is how I knew that I couldn’t just give up track completely. God kept opening doors! I learned about ALTIS (formerly known as World Athletics Center) from my college coach, Reuben Jones who told me about the center when I first expressed interest in running for Nigeria during my senior year. Then, during my year off, I tried to learn all I could about it and also tried to get in contact with athletes that were training there. I applied for the semi-pro membership and I got the acceptance call from Andreas Behm in June. I also had other coaches that were happy to work with me, but I knew that ALTIS would provide the best environment for me. It was a very hard decision for me to leave the NBA, a place of comfort and financial security to come to ALTIS to train. But, just like I did in college, I made a sacrifice to be great, and I moved from Manhattan, NYC after living there for 5 years to Phoenix, Arizona because I wanted to pursue and complete my track dreams.
Now, I’m at ALTIS trying to make the best of every opportunity I’m given. I count myself extremely blessed to be here, and I’m working hard to be the best sprinter I was created to be. I’m hopeful that with the coaching and environment here at ALTIS I will emerge into the championship sprinter I have the potential to be. I just want to give this running thing serious attention, and hone my skills so that I can represent my country well when it matters, and also make my family proud. A lot of people are supporting me in Austin, NYC, and in Nigeria so it helps me get through difficult days. I’m a strong believer in using God-given talents to bless people, and that’s why I’m still running track. I want people young and old to hear my story and be challenged to persevere, be bold to pursue their multiple callings, and be courageous to defy all odds. Simply put, I’m just a kid from Nigeria, who’s trying to use my gifts to make a positive impact in the world.
What was your most monumental moment in Track and Field?
My most monumental moment in Track and Field would have to be placing 5th overall in the 200 m dash at the Nigerian National Championships in 2014. I was running next to women that I’ve looked up to, and to be able to see myself in the midst of great competition and talent was literally eye-opening for me. I was the youngest competitor in the field and also the least experienced, but I went out there, toe pain and all, and gave it my best. Even though I didn’t win and I missed making the Commonwealth Games Team by one spot, I felt like I won because I finally saw my greater potential to be an elite track athlete. Being in the crowd amongst my people, and getting the opportunity to try out to represent my country humbled me and also made me hungrier for more success.
What is your mindset going into the Olympic year?
My mindset going into the Olympic year is to devote everything I have into becoming the best championship sprinter I can be. I am completely focused on honing my craft and falling in love with the process of sprinting and becoming a great sprinter. I understand that in order to make the Nigerian Olympic Team, I have to be ready to execute when it matters, and also have enough mental strength to carry me through. I’m working on not just developing my physical skills, but also sharpening my mental skills as well. Track is a very mental sport, and I know I have what it takes, I just have to continue to believe, and trust that in God’s time, He will make a way for me. I’m excited to see what this year will bring!
How is your training going so far?
My training is going very well and I’m very grateful to be here at ALTIS. The coaches here have deconstructed everything I thought I knew about sprinting. I came in with terrible form and sprinting mechanics, and the coaches have helped me to clean it up. I used to sprint on my heels (weird right?!), but I’ve completely transitioned to sprinting on the balls of my feet, and I look like a different runner. I am very happy with my training and love being in an environment where I am pushed beyond my limits everyday. I believe that this will be a transformative season for me and I’m working hard and staying patient, because I know the results will come!
Advice to Young Athletes
- Fall in love with the process, fully engage yourself in your training, eating right, sleeping right, everything that it takes, and watch for the results, also enjoy it!
- Master your event, know what it takes to be great at your event, watch videos, be able to explain it to someone else
- Be patient, Rome was not built in one day, and even the greatest have to start from somewhere
- Positive vibes, surround yourself with positivity and people that will help you grow
- Run, Bike, Play Basketball, Swim, Dance, anything that gets you moving and sweating for 30min-1hr at least 3-4 days a week
- Eat/sleep well, diet and sleep are very important for maximizing workout gains
- Stay hydrated, electrolyte drinks do wonders!
- Do your own research, and don’t trust the latest trend, make sure things work for your body
- Don’t be afraid to look cute while working out, have fun picking out workout clothes
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