GVSU freshman Emmanuel Arop adjusting to Allendale after moving from Nigeria

GVL / Courtesy - Athletes USA
Emmanuel Arop, as pictured on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015.

Athletes USA

GVL / Courtesy – Athletes USA Emmanuel Arop, as pictured on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015.

Jacob Arvidson

Six thousand-two hundred miles.

That’s how far Grand Valley State freshman sprinter Emmanuel Arop was willing to go to pursue a track and field scholarship.

The blooming star is from Calabar, Cross River, Nigeria, located in the far south of the West African nation. He is prepared to make his mark on the United States by breaking numerous records at GVSU.

Arop has a passion for track and field, but the country of Nigeria doesn’t necessarily have the same mindset.

“My chances of competing were limited,” he said. “In Nigeria they don’t really have a high regard for track and field.”

The U.S. would offer Arop an opportunity to not only continue his track and field career, but to receive a quality education as well. More importantly, if Arop was fast enough on the track and worked hard enough in the classroom, several schools in the U.S. would offer to pay for his education entirely.

But Arop’s father was not on board with his son traveling across the world, specifically to pursue track and field.

“He said I had to do engineering and I had to read my books and that track and field wasn’t going to take me anywhere,” Arop said. “My dad knew I was fast, but he didn’t believe I could get faster with proper training. He also felt athletes in Nigeria don’t get paid very well.”

It was with the help of his oldest brother that Arop was able to convince his father to let him accept a scholarship to attend college in the U.S. The agreement was that Arop needed to find a school where he could study engineering. After sorting through numerous offers from across the country and weighing the scholarship money, the track and field opportunities and the engineering program, Arop chose GVSU.

Now that he is a Laker, Arop sees why his father was skeptical of whether or not he could balance both athletics and engineering effectively.

“I try to work very hard to prove to my parents and my brother that everything I’ve done isn’t in vain,” he said. “I can actually do both. My dad was thinking if I do sports now, then I won’t be able to do engineering. It was one or the other and he definitely didn’t want me to choose sports.”

Fittingly, the brother who helped convince Arop’s father to let the future GVSU star go, was the one who had inspired Arop to love running as a young boy.

“When I saw him run with his friends and beat them, I just felt it was amazing watching him win the races,” Arop said.

That inspiration would drive Arop to become a superstar. As an eight and nine-year-old, he would run at youth competitions where he quickly learned he had a unique gift of speed.

He went on to attend Airforce Comprehensive Secondary School, a military school in his home country. In Nigeria, high school lasts for six years and almost always, because the kids are still growing, the fastest kids in the school are naturally the ones in their sixth year.

But when Arop was in his fourth year, he and another classmate were already faster than the fifth and sixth year students.

That’s when people began to take notice of the teenager.

“This had never happened before,” he said. “They realized we were actually fast so they took us out to compete. We competed, I won the races and he came in second, and it was a good feeling and our relay team was strong. From there they had high regards for us.”

Arop had always known he was fast, but now others were seeing it as well. He was invited to the Nigerian Under-20s competition where he finished third as a 17-year-old in the 100-meter dash, though he questioned the age and eligibility of those competing around him.

“If I’m being honest, in Nigeria the people that are competing in the Under-20 aren’t actually under 20,” he said. “It’s a little rigged.”

Arop recalls lining up next to an opponent and looking over to see what looked like a full-grown man running in the next lane. He remembers thinking there was no way in the world this man was under 20 years old, he said.

Running against tough, and sometimes unfair, competition only made Arop stronger and more prepared for his future and his time at GVSU. The freshman most recently posted a 60-meter dash time of 6.88 seconds at the Gladstein Invitational in Indiana Friday, Jan. 20. The mark put him in position to represent GVSU at the NCAA Division II Indoor National Championships.

“He is going to score points. He’ll be in the top eight for sure,” said fellow sprinter Thomas Capers. “He’ll be an All-American if he keeps training hard like he’s supposed to be.”

Teammates like Capers and Kenny Jones have been instrumental in Arop’s acclimation to the GVSU team and the U.S. in general.

“I just want to be there for him,” Jones said. “If he needs somebody, I’m there. And it also really helps that we’re part of the sprints group, just getting him comfortable with what’s going on.”

Arop’s biggest struggle as part of the track and field team has been getting accustomed to the rigorous training, but his teammates have been there to push him, encourage him and allow him to do the same to them in return.

“This is my first year of organized training. I’ve never trained like this in my life,” he said. “The hardest part was during the fall. That’s when we are building up. 

“There are exercises that I’m not very used to like the long distance runs. I get tired and there was a race where I even had to throw up. It was just very difficult.”

But Arop is a man built by hard work and he has used the training to improve in life, something that shows in his successful, simultaneous balancing act of athletics and the engineering program.

“He’s a smart kid,” Capers said. “He was telling me his GPA was over a 4.0 (in Nigeria) because they have a different grading scale. He’s actually taught me different ways to do homework and study habits. Education-wise, he’s taught me stuff.”

Jones and Capers believe the addition of Arop will allow them to re-break the 4×100-meter relay record during the outdoor season, a record they set last spring. Individually, Arop has his mind on all of the GVSU short-sprinting records, from the 60 to the 200-meter dash.

“I think I should run a 6.7-second 60,” he said. “In the 400 I don’t think I’m built to run it that fast, not to compete with the elites, but the 100 meters, the 200, the 60; I feel I could actually run fast in those.

“If I get stronger in the gym and get stronger outside here doing workouts and things, then I could probably run a sub-10 in the 100 meters.”