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Boston University track and field’s David Oluwadara (ENG’17, Questrom’18) thought he had just broken a then-32-year-old outdoor triple jump record while competing at the Texas Relays March 29–April 1, 2017. His 16.19-meter jump first registered as a legal jump, but was later overturned as a wind-aided jump.
When Oluwadara did finally break the University’s outdoor record at the Auburn Tiger Track Classic in April 2018, it was under unexpected circumstances. Having nursed a hamstring injury all season, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound triple jumper had planned to try a half-approach—running half the distance on his lead into the jump—but at the last minute decided he would chance a full approach. It worked.
“[The goal was to] go back to Boston being able to walk,” Oluwadara says. “I was able to go back to Boston walking but also with the record on my first jump.”
When Oluwadara entered the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championship, June 8, 2018, in Eugene, Ore., it was an emotional moment. In 2017, his mother, Adeola, had told her son that if he advanced to the 2017 NCAA Outdoor Championship, she planned to travel to see him compete. But he didn’t make the cut. In December 2017, Adeola died of cancer. Before her death, her son promised her that he would make the 2018 championship. When he jumped at the championship on June 8, he says he did so to honor her memory.
Growing up in Newton, Mass., Oluwadara gravitated to music, not sports. An accomplished pianist, drummer, and singer, his family sent him to classes at the New England Conservatory on Saturdays. “No one did sports in the house,” Oluwadara says.
But as a student at Newton North High School, he joined the basketball team and became a power forward. It was during his junior year, when Oluwadara went up for a dunk while playing basketball outdoors, that he caught the attention of Jim Blackburn, Newton North’s track and field coach. Blackburn approached him and asked if he had ever done track and field. When Oluwadara said no, Blackburn replied, “You should consider jumping.”
“I told him I would,” Oluwadara says, “but I didn’t.” But word spread quickly that Blackburn had talked to him about becoming a jumper for the program. When outdoor track and field tryouts took place that spring, two of Oluwadara’s friends on the track and field team grabbed him by his arms and dragged him to the tryouts, he says. He soon found he loved jumping.
Without a dedicated jumping coach in high school, Oluwadara wasn’t good enough to be recruited by colleges. But after arriving at BU, he reached out to Robyne Johnson, director of BU’s track and field and cross-country programs.
“We often give kids opportunities if they’re coming to BU,” Johnson says. “Oftentimes in high school, you don’t have the coaching, or you have a distance coach coaching jumping. They don’t have the opportunity to have done better, so they’re not recruited, but that doesn’t mean they’re not capable.”
While Oluwadara lacked proper technique, Johnson says she quickly recognized that he had potential. “I thought to myself, ‘I think this kid could really do something,’” Johnson says, “and I was correct.”
Once on the track and field team, Oluwadara’s technique improved rapidly. By sophomore season, he had been named the Patriot League Male Indoor Track Athlete of the Year and made his NCAA East Preliminaries debut during the outdoor season.
“To come from basically just being out there to being one of the best guys in the country, if not the world, is pretty amazing,” says five-year teammate Justin Flynn (CGS’16, Questrom’18).
From there, Oluwadara went on a spree, earning one record after another. As a junior, he broke the then-31-year-old BU triple jump indoor record with a mark of 16.06 meters, only to break it again as a senior (16.07 meters). That same year, 2017, he was named a Second Team All-American after his performance in the NCAA Indoor Championship and won the Mickey Cochrane Award, given annually to the top BU male athlete.
After finishing seventh in the triple jump at the NCAA East Regionals with a leap of 16 meters in May 2018, Oluwadara was seeking to capture his first NCAA Championship title.
“I got to the hotel room after everything, and I just lied down on the ground,” Oluwadara says, recalling his performance at the Regionals May 24–26, 2018. “I was crying, and I was just thanking God, like, ‘Thank you that this can actually happen.’”
“He doesn’t really speak much about how he feels,” his sister Dami says. “It was just hard for him to come to terms with what happened (with my mom). I think that was the first time I’ve seen him actually cry.”
While Oluwadara finished 13th in the championship, Flynn says, “He’s never going to give up or be deterred at any point. It goes back to faith for him all the time; I think that it really enables him to have the most steadfast, diligent, and unwavering mentality.”
Following the NCAA Championship, Oluwadara says his next goal is to represent Nigeria in the 2020 Summer Olympics. “It’s definitely something I can do,” he says.
Jonathan Chang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.