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Friday, Oct 20, 2017
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Freedom's Akachukwu has a chance to make history at state meet

Every track meet begins the same way for Freedom?s Sandra Akachukwu.
The public-address announcer mispronounces her name.
"Akachoochoo, Akakoochee, Akachanga," Freedom track coach Dwight Smith said. "Amana, mana, wana!"
"I feel bad for the announcers," said Akachukwu. "It's not easy."
For the record it?s pronounced, "Ah-kah-choo-koo." The "w" is silent.
Does it bother Akachukwu?
"No, no," she said, chuckling and displaying her brilliant grin. "Not at all."
Then again, nothing much troubles her, a fact that becomes obvious during a track meet as she accomplishes remarkable feats.
So remarkable, in fact, that she has a chance on Saturday to do what no other athlete from Hillsborough County has done: Medal - or finish in the top eight - in four individual events in consecutive years at the state meet.
Her events include the long jump, high jump 100 and 200-meter dashes, where last year at the Class 4A meet she finished fifth, third, eighth and seventh, respectively.
This year, she appears poised to improve on all those finishes, coming in with personal bests of 19 feet, 8 inches in the long jump, 5-8 in the high jump, 11.86 seconds in the 100 meters and 24.67 in the 200.
"I feel stronger and faster after an offseason of concentrating on track," said Akachukwu, who has signed a track scholarship with Western Kentucky. "In the past I?ve played volleyball and basketball, but this year I wanted to concentrate on what I do best."
Then she bursts into her smile, which is dominating and the complete opposite of her scowl when she runs and jumps.
"She looks mean!" Smith said. "She looks angry!"
But she is neither.
Her teammate, Faith Woodard, who is the defending state high jump champion, said Akachukwu is one of the nicest, most unassuming and compassionate people she?s ever met.
"She also just happens to amaze me as an athlete," said Woodard, The Tampa Tribune's two-time female athlete of the year. "I watch her juggle all those events at the same time and I say, 'Wow, that is truly amazing.'"
"And the thing is, she always stays cool. She never, ever, gets rattled. She makes me feel better when I'm competing just knowing she?s out there. She's helped me, and I hope I've helped her."
When asked where she gets it from, Akachukwu shrugs a little, thinks a moment, and says, "My coaches and my family (which includes two brothers and two sisters)."
Akachukwu quickly added that she?s appreciative of her talents and everything that America offers, something she feels she gets from her parents, Victoria and Martin, who moved from Nigeria almost 30 years ago for a better life in America.
"I know their story," Akachukwu said. "I think it helps me take nothing for granted."
Including her chance at the record books ? not that she?s keeping close tabs on records.
She said she doesn?t necessarily know King High?s Charles Johnson other than the fact a local track meet was named for him after he won four events in 1987.
"I hear my coaches say some things (about records)," Akachukwu said. "But I really don?t know who (has what records). I just know I want to do the best I possibly can. I appreciate accomplishments."
Wharton has had a couple of great athletes in recent years, including Amani Bryant and Teona Rodgers. They medaled in multiple events at the state meet, but never in four individual events in the same year, and certainly not two years in a row.
"I hope she gets everything she ever worked for," Woodard said. "One day I can definitely see the 'Akachukwu Invitational Track Meet' being held in her honor."
Smith chuckled.
"But they?d have to call it, 'The AKA Meet,?' Smith said. "Because no one would ever know how to pronounce it."
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