Chloe Akin-Otiko: Ode to KU

Choosing to attend the University of Kansas resulted in many humbling and life-changing experiences for me. Not only did I embark on my journey to a higher education here, but I also chose KU to build upon my experience as a student athlete through track and field. For me, track and field was a relatively newer sport compared to how I played basketball from a really young age. I had loved playing basketball and it was always me and my family’s favorite and primary sport. My older sister played basketball at Creighton University while my dad played at Oral Roberts University and then professionally overseas. So even though I began track and field in middle school and went on to have a successful career throughout high school, I always thought I would follow in my dad and sister’s footsteps to play basketball in college. This was my plan up until my senior year of high school, but little did I know that when I went on an official visit to KU for the opportunity to run track, my life would change forever. For the first time in my life, I was truly able to envision myself running track in college instead of playing basketball. After that visit, I knew I was meant to go to KU.

From the moment I stepped onto campus, KU became my home away from home. It was the perfect fit. I loved my coaches and teammates, I had access to a world-class education and training facilities, and I felt supported by friends, family, teammates, and coaches. All of these benefits gave me the opportunity to become academically and athletically successful and I was ready to take it all on. Nevertheless, there was a learning curve to life as a college student. I finally figured out why people say you can tell the difference between the calf muscles of seniors and freshman at KU. Walking up and down the hills of campus in the sun, rain, ice, and snow is no joke! But besides the terrain, I welcomed more fun and exciting changes in my life. I loved my newfound sense of independence, having to challenge myself more in the classroom, and creating relationships and experiences that became lasting memories. I was also nervous, yet excited for the changes that came along with being a Division I student athlete.

Never before in my life was I pushed to such physical and mental extremes, but I loved it! I learned to balance more extensive and rigorous training with tougher classes and a social life. It challenged me to be better in every area of my life and it helped shape me into who I am today. Nevertheless with all of these positive changes, I expected things to go smoothly according to my plans. However, I soon discovered that even the most thorough and prepared plans do not always come to fruition. The transition from training for track for 10 weeks in high school to 8 months at the Division I level began to take its toll on me. Mentally, I was up to the task, but I discovered that my body did not have the same idea. As a result, I experienced multiple and recurring injuries throughout my four years at KU. This prevented me from training effectively and left me unable to run competitively for seasons at a time. I became frustrated and frequently contemplated whether I made the right decision by choosing track over basketball. Although I had experienced things in my life that had not gone according to plan, like when my mother passed away from breast cancer when I was 7, this was different. It was difficult for me because my body had been always been the one thing that I could control really well. It was an asset that had never failed me before, but now it was repeatedly holding me back.

I had to consciously and repeatedly let go of the need to be in control and this was a humbling experience. Yes it is true that we have a say in what happens in our lives because of the choices we make, but ultimately, no one knows what will happen tomorrow. Only God knows and that is why I am thankful for my time at KU. Although I would sometimes struggle with feelings of failure and inadequacy, I never thought for one second that I was not right where I needed to be. I was reminded of that by my faith, the support of my family, and the support of my coaches and teammates. Even if I felt that I was not always athletically performing to my standards or the standards that I thought others had for me, I knew that there was a reason why I chose KU. I had so many preconceived expectations about how things should and would go, but ultimately there was a larger purpose for my life beyond how fast I could run. In coming to KU, I found my identity outside of my performance, which was a beautiful lesson and one that I didn’t even know I had to learn. So for that, I am thankful.

Given the recent changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have all had to greatly and suddenly adjust our lives for a collective purpose. I recognize that this is not easy and I am thankful for all of those who are involved with keeping us safe and healthy. I also pray for all of those who are struggling in any way during this time. However, I hope that this experience provides us all with a learning opportunity. If and when things do not go our way such as during this time of uncertainty, we must try to positively embrace the inevitable element of change. Whether the change is good or bad, we should try to let go of our unfounded sense of complete control, look for the positives, and be thankful.

This is how I can appreciate every memory and experience that I’ve had from KU and life in general. Although my plans changed and I did not even get a chance to finish my season, I can rest in the fact that I had some of the best experiences and opportunities of my life as a Division I track athlete at KU. It was exciting, nerve-wracking, and heart-breaking, but I would not change a single thing. I grew in my faith, found my identity outside of being an athlete, and figured out how to contribute to something bigger than myself, even when that meant my plans had to change.

So for all of that and more, I am thankful from the bottom of my heart.