By Amelia Sniffin
Favor Ezewuzie had just finished a practice at the Division III Indoor Track Championships in North Carolina in preparation to compete the next day, when head coach Scott Bradley delivered devastating news. All NCAA Winter and Spring Championships were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The race Ezewuzie had prepared months to run would never happen.
“It was really painful,” said Ezewuzie, a senior. “Competing at nationals was something that felt like the pinnacle of athletic achievement and to not be able to run was heartbreaking.”
During this past winter track season, Ezewuzie was named a finalist for the Division III Women’s Indoor Track & Field National “Track Athlete of the Year” by the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association. She was set to compete in the women’s 60-meter hurdles, 60-meter dash and the 200-meter dash at the national meet.
“If we had had the national meet, Favor had a very good chance at being national athlete of the year,” said Bradley.
There is no question that Ezewuzie had a strong start to what she had anticipated to be her final season, but her journey to the track is one Bradley describes as “a-once-in-a-coaching-lifetime story.”
Throughout high school, Ezewuzie participated in basketball and soccer, but never ran competitively. Her initial plan as an incoming freshman was to walk-on to the Wheaton basketball team, but the team had a full recruiting class that season. She said, “I always knew that I was kind of fast in basketball, so I thought why not try out for the track team?”
Despite never advertising tryouts, the track program had several students ask to try out for the team that season. After a series of these tryouts proved to be unsuccessful, Coach Bradely was ready to solely focus on the team he had for the season, without recruiting new athletes.
It wasn’t until Ezewuzie visited Coach Bradley’s office that he changed his mind. “She came strolling in and impressed me right off the bat just with who she is as a person,” said Bradley.
During the scheduled one-on-one tryout session, Bradley put Ezewuzie through several drills on the track to check coordination. “The first test she did, she blew it out of the water,” Bradley said with a laugh. “During the next drill, I thought she was performing pretty well, but then I looked down at my clock and I literally started laughing out loud because she’d run just about as fast as anybody I’ve ever coached, totally untrained.”
Bradley said he walked back up to his office in the Student Recreation Center and texted his wife “God has done us a great Favor.”
Ezewuzie went on to dominate several events throughout her three years at Wheaton, particularly in the 60-meter dash where her time of 7.57 seconds ranked as the second-fastest time in Division III this year. Ezewuzie was also the first Wheaton athlete to be named Division III Midwest Track Athlete of the Year in 2019, and repeated the honor again in March. Ezewuzie also holds the school and conference record in the 60-meter hurdles with a time of 8.60 seconds. Ezewuzie says her favorite event is the 100 hurdles.
“It’s probably the most challenging event for me,” she said. “Learning how to do it well the past three years has given me lots of lessons about growth and how that takes time and consistent commitment.”
Ezewuzie was also recognized as part of the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW’s) Academic All-Conference team. But it is her dedication to the team and the sport that coaches and teammates say have been most evident to them.
“As good of an athlete she is, she’s a better person,” said Bradley. “Anytime the best athlete on the team is also the most coachable and grateful and humble and hardworking: that is unbelievable for a team.”
The honors will keep coming as Ezewuzie plans on returning for an additional season next spring. The NCAA granted spring athletes an additional year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic and seasons having to be canceled.
“The program will benefit ten times having her return,” said senior teammate Cassidy Thornburg. “They will benefit from not only the energy and athletic prowess she brings to the track, but also her ability to encourage and build others up while she’s at the top of her game.”
Ezewuzie, a captain, reflected on her leadership saying, “I think it’s about leading by example and understanding that responsibility… supporting your teammates, praying for them and reminding them of their worth.”
Ezewuzie is motivated to keep running next year despite the heartbreaking cancellation of this season.
“I was definitely disheartened for a while, but in the past weeks I’ve been motivated because when I run, it’s like everything stops and I feel like that’s what I was created to do,” said Ezewuzie. “I feel a level of purpose. It’s doing what I love.”