ATHENS — NCAA Woman of the Year.
There can’t be a headier title than that. Actually, there isn’t in collegiate athletics. But that is now the crown that Georgia’s Keturah Orji is wearing. It was bestowed upon her Sunday night in Indianapolis.
“It’s not something I set out to achieve,” said the ever-humble Orji to a small gathering of reporters at UGA’s Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall on Monday. “I didn’t even know it existed until this year when Heather (LaBarbera, UGA athletics director of student services) told me I should apply. When I applied, I saw people who won in previous years and they were researchers and had done all this stuff and I thought, ‘I don’t know if I can win this.’ But maybe I can be a finalist. So it definitely wasn’t expected.”
It should have been considering Orji tends to win most everything for which she competes. That’s definitely the case on the track.
Orji is a 15-time first-team All-American and eight-time NCAA individual national champion in her various events (four times in the outdoor triple jump, three times in the indoor triple jump and once in the outdoor long jump). Her outstanding performance in those events helped Georgia win a team NCAA championship in indoor track and field in 2018 and finish as the national runner-up three more times. She also missed by three centimeters being an Olympic medalist as she finished fourth in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Orji holds the American and collegiate records for the indoor triple jump and the collegiate record for the outdoor triple jump. Orji was a four-time USTFCCCA National Women’s Field Athlete of the Year, and she is the only woman in history to be a three-time Bowerman Award finalist. She completed her collegiate career 31-1 overall in the triple jump and currently owns the top eight indoor marks in NCAA history and the top six performances outdoors.
But that wasn’t really the reason why she was among nine finalist for the most prestigious women’s award in collegiate athletics. It also encompasses off-field accomplishments.
Orji had those covered, too.
A three-year captain for the Bulldogs, Orji served for three years on UGA’s student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), including as vice president during her senior year. A four-year attendee of the Student-Athlete Leadership Academy, she founded Amara’s Pride in 2017, an after-school mentoring program for middle school girls, focusing on self-worth, the importance of education, social media influences and the power of perseverance. Orji also worked with an income tax assistance program, spent time with children whose parents were incarcerated during the holiday season and served as a United Team leader, through which she mentored other student-athletes through weekly small groups and Bible studies.
A 2018 Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar, Orji was a member of Georgia’s Sphinx Club academic honor society and the oldest honorary society at UGA, the Blue Key Honor Society. She was named the 2018 Southeastern Conference Women’s Indoor and Outdoor Track and Field Scholar-Athlete of the Year, her third honor of this kind, and the university’s Joel Eaves Scholar-Athlete of the Year presented to the female student-athlete who has the highest GPA going into their senior year.
Orji becomes the first winner from Georgia’s track and field program and the fourth winner overall from the University of Georgia. Swimmers Lisa Coole (1997), Kristy Kowal (2000) and Kim Black (2001) won UGA its first three NCAA Woman of the Year honors. Georgia was also the first school to have more than one winner.
Orji has graduated from Georgia but plans to pursue a masters degree. She has now turned professional in track — representing for the Atlanta Track Club, for now — and hopes to compete in Europe.
“Track is something I’ll always have in my life, whether it’s something I do for my livelihood or something I do in my free time,” Orji said.