Courtney Okolo's passion for running grew organically from her days in the schoolyard. Lining up to race the other kids, boys included, she regularly came out on top.
But it wasn't until middle school that she learned that she could compete in organized running. She joined the school's track team and set her course. To her, track and field is the purest form of sport: "No points, no score, just competition," she explains. And she has carried that simple philosophy to great accomplishment winning, so far, gold in the 4x4 in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, eight national championships and most recently, the World Championship in the 400 at the Birmingham Indoor competition.
In college, Courtney was also honored with The Bowerman Trophy awarded by the US Track and Field Associations Coaches for the best female student-athlete. But as much as Courtney has brought to track and field, she believes being an athlete has given to her, too, instilling in her a commitment to success that impacts all aspects of her life.
"Sports has made me very goal-oriented. I actually have a book where I write all my goals, I've had it since high school," She says. "Setting goals has helped me develop discipline and that has carried over into other aspects of my life. I'm disciplined with training and my diet and so I’m disciplined with things like my finances. The discipline of being an athlete has a real impact on all parts of my life."
A similar thread of determination runs through her father, David Okolo. Amidst the political unrest in Nigeria in 1978, Courtney's father immigrated to the United States. With only the clothes on his back, he made the journey, found work and enrolled in college. It wasn't easy, he had to drop out more than once when funds ran tight. Eventually, he earned his Bachelor's degree and settled in Dallas. Once established, he sponsored several of his brothers and cousins to come to the States. In this way, Mr. Okolo built a strong family network for the future.
Ten years after he immigrated, Okolo returned to Nigeria. While there, he met a gentle Nigerian woman aptly named Comfort. They married in 1989 and together returned to the U.S. Mr. Okolo has made it a tradition to recount his journey to the family every Thanksgiving. Around a table laden with both traditional American Thanksgiving food and traditional Nigerian food, Courtney's father tells of his struggles and triumphs with his large extended family. Together they give thanks for their good fortune. By repeating his story, Mr. Okolo hopes to instill a sense of gratitude and heritage in the next generation.
Courtney feels that sense of heritage and carries it with her.
"Being the daughter of immigrants has made me strong," she says.
She counts herself lucky to be a first generation American because it allows her to have a foot in both worlds. With her family she is immersed in the Nigerian culture and identity, but in her life outside the home she is fully a part of the Black American culture. Both worlds feel comfortable to Courtney and offer her different ways of knowing herself and the world.