Wagga's Godfrey Okerenyang is hoping 2022 can be a landmark year in his athletics career after returning to the track just before Christmas with a sizzling 100m sprint at a meet in Sydney.
In a win for the mind as much as his explosive limbs, Okerenyang managed to put fear of injury aside after a horror couple of years.
He stopped the clock at 10.87 seconds at an Athletics NSW All Comers meet.
"I ran my first race two weeks ago, that was a pretty good run - my fastest ever (season) opener," Okerenyang said.
"It didn't feel that fast but it was good to get back on the track."
The 19-year-old won his heat. His time placed him 11th overall, of 116 sprinters in the Open Men's division, (with a fast top heat won by Will Roberts from Asics Wests club in 10.44s).
A former student at The Riverina Anglican College, Okerenyang is now living in Sydney and studying exercise science at Wollongong University.
Unfortunately, his own anatomy has been a test case of what can go wrong.
The run in Sydney was just his third track event in two years, since he dramatically, sadly, and severely tore his hamstring in the 100m final at the Australian All Schools Athletics Championships.
"I was going to run at State Relays in November but while I was in lockdown in Wagga I hurt my hamstring again so we didn't want to rush into things," he said.
"Then I was going to open at a comp two weeks before I did but I had another niggle and - I don't know - lots of things in my head with injury, so I don't run.
"Even leading up to (the All Comers meet), I nearly wasn't going to run. But one of my Australian coaches was saying I just have to do it, get it out of my head, otherwise I'm never going to run.
"So I did and it was fine. Nothing happened."
It was his first competitive run since January, and also marked two years to the day since the surgery to repair a complicated injury.
Back at the end of 2019, Okerenyang had just clocked 10.64s in his All Schools 100m heat before falling to the track in pain mid-race as he was trying to break 10.5s in the final.
Now, he has the confidence to dream that he can get back on track next year, with the postponed World University Games a pretty big carrot enticing him to aim high: 10.3 seconds is the goal he's set himself.
"The reason I wasn't really happy with 10.87 was because I did a flying 100 at training in 10.3 so I know that I can move quicker," Okerenyang said.
"I just haven't got race fitness yet, so I'm keen to see where I can get to by the end of the season."
Okerenyang is training under Rob Marks in Camden with a 'Project Elite' squad. Getting more competitions, and confidence is what matters now.
The NSW state championships are his next major focus and the former Kooringal-Wagga club athlete also hopes to compete at Victoria, Queensland and ACT titles.
"If I do run well at those, hopefully I get into the Track Classics which would be good," he said.
"Training has been good. I just need to get back racing and get back to where I was."
The domestic season builds towards nationals at the end of March, and selection for the World University Games is the dream - ideally on the back of a full season of meets.
Okerenyang did compete in long jump early this year, and finished fourth at national juniors with a first leap of 7.24m off little training. With coaching from Temora's Greg Wiencke, he says he wants to incorporate long jump again in coming months but pure speed is the priority right now.
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