Keturah Orji at the World Youth Championships in Ukraine
When she was a kid, MOHS senior Keturah Orji was always one of the fastest girls on the playground – faster than even most boys. That was an early sign that those legs of hers were something special. Her medals in July at the World Youth Championships in Ukraine are the latest. And there’s been a whole lot in-between.
“World-class” is one of the most overused modifiers in the English language. But with her competition hailing from places like Romania, China, and Poland instead of Sparta or Morris Hills, calling Keturah a world-class track and field athlete isn’t hyperbole. The 17-year-old is truly in an elite group.
Her list of accomplishments is impressive. Keturah set the Morris County record in the triple jump in June, 2012 at the state championships. A year later – June, 2013 – in that same competition she went on to set the state record, 42’ 6.5”. And just days after that, Keturah set the state record again in the New Balance Nationals with a distance of 43’ 9.25”.
A month later there would be even another record. In fact, her triple jump mark of 44’ 11" in the World Youth Championships, which earned her the bronze, is the second best ever from a female U.S. high school athlete – a scant three-quarters of an inch shy of the national record. Her silver-winning distance in the long jump, 20’ 11.75”, is less than five inches from the 34-year-old state record.
When you consider that those personal bests in Ukraine were set just after she completed her junior year, a year in which she seemed to improve meet after meet… Well, suddenly April, 2014 and the start of the track season can’t get here soon enough.
“Keturah hasn’t reached her full potential yet,” said Kevin Stansberry, MOHS principal. “We’re all waiting to see what she can really do as she continues to grow and mature as an athlete.”
Before finding her place on the track, Keturah studied gymnastics for seven years, beginning in the second grade. That early training helped teach her important life lessons about hardwork and follow-though, as well as develop her overall athleticism.
“Gymnastics definitely helped me become a better athlete,” Keturah said. “You have to know and be able to control your body, and that’s what gymnastics is all about.”
Keturah's been racking up the accomplishments for a while now – she broke the school triple jump record as a sophomore on just her third jump ever – but just as remarkable as her success is Keturah herself. She's smart, quiet yet well-spoken, with the inner confidence, focus, and fierce determination of someone far beyond her 17 years.
Perhaps what’s most striking about Keturah, besides the fact that she stands just 5’5,” is her modesty. She’s uncomfortable with all the attention that her on-field performance garners. Her least favorite subject to talk about is herself. In this technology-fueled Age of Narcissism in which every thought and mundane activity is tweeted and posted and blogged with the import of mankind's first steps on the moon, modesty in the face of sincere achievement shows real class and true character.
Though the spotlight will be even bigger and brighter this spring when the track season begins – more eyes will be watching, more fingers will be crossed – there’s no doubt that the senior will handle it all with her signature casualness.
“Success hasn’t gone to her head,” said Vanessa Benfatti, physical education teacher and track coach. “She keeps everything in perspective. She doesn’t wear flashy clothes and is very down-to-earth…We knew from the start that she was something special.”
Varsity volleyball occupies Keturah’s time nowadays. And thinking about life beyond the doors of Mount Olive High School next year. The University of Kansas, University of Florida, Clemson, University of Missouri, and University of Georgia are all in her sights. Actually to be more accurate, Keturah is in theirs.
She’ll make a decision soon, but before going off to college Keturah has a tiny bit more she’d like to accomplish. Three-quarters of an inch more to be exact. (Attention record-keeper: It’s not too early to buy a new eraser. You’ll need it.)
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