Track and field national champion Judith Essemiah looks to defend her number one spot


GVL / Lauren Seymour

James Herrick, Staff Writer

Since arriving at Grand Valley State University by way of Amsterdam, junior Judith Essemiah has never shied away from hard work. The track and field throwing national champion’s dedication to her sport has certainly paid off as she is now a staple of GVSU track and field.

Essemiah’s athletic journey started back in the Netherlands where she excelled in sports at a young age, most notably, dance. However, heading into high school she had to take a year-long hiatus from playing sports.

“I wasn’t academically gifted per se, but I had pretty good grades all the time,” Essemiah said. “When I went to high school, my parents wanted me to quit sports for like a year so I could focus on class. I barely made it out of the year. After that, I was like, ‘I’m going to do any sport; I don’t care what.’”

Essemiah, who was 13 at the time, signed up for track and began competing in throwing events. While experimenting with other sports like tennis and basketball, she began to focus more on throwing, and it eventually became her only sport. This allowed her to spend more time practicing her throws while maintaining strong academic success.

As her high school career wound down, Essemiah realized she could go to school in the U.S. and progress in both academics and throwing.

“It was never that I knew I was better than most people,” Essemiah said. “I just knew I was okay at (throwing) at that moment and I knew that America would have a space for me, no matter how good I was.”

Once it was time to determine what university she would attend, GVSU checked all the boxes.

“I just wanted to go to school where I knew I didn’t have to take too many loans, and that was GVSU,” Essemiah said. “I also felt comfortable talking to the coach and to my teammates here.”

Essemiah was unable to visit GVSU before enrolling. Instead, she would watch YouTube videos about the university and eventually fell in love with the school.

Once Essemiah arrived at GVSU for the fall semester of 2018, she immediately went to work.

“Improving is fun, it’s good, but it’s also a lot of hard work,” Essemiah said. “It’s not something that just happens, you have to work your ass off. Every single day when you come to the track you have to be on time and listen to your body. It’s not just (at practice), it’s outside the track too. It’s sleeping well, drinking enough water and controlling your personal life so you can focus on track.”

The hard work that Essemiah put in all paid off when she won the hammer throw in the 2021 NCAA DII Outdoor Track and Field Championships. Now a national champion, she lives with the pressure of defending her championship.

“Winning a national championship is great; it’s really fun, but you have to do it again,” Essemiah said. “It’s fun for a day or two but then you realize, ‘dang, this is what’s expected of me.’ I have to reach this level every single year.”

Despite the outdoor hammer throw being her main event, she is currently dominating the indoor weight throw. During her first four events of the 2022 indoor track season, she has walked away with three first-place finishes with the only outlier being one second-place finish. Most notably, on Jan. 28 at the GVSU Bill Clinger Classic, Essemiah threw 20.43 meters. This set her personal record and is currently the farthest weight throw of the DII 2022 indoor season.

This performance came after a switch in form. On the Tuesday before the meet, Essemiah tried a wind instead of a swing. Prior to meet day, she had thrown less than 20 times with her new form.

“We changed my entry from a wind to a swing,” Essemiah said. “This really helped, it gave me more control over the weight and helped me throw further.”

Even with her success so far, Essemiah still has lofty goals for the remainder of this season.

“Expectation wise, I hope to hit 21 meters at some point,” Essemiah said. “Winning conference and winning nationals would be amazing for sure.”

Even if Essemiah doesn’t reach all her goals, she believes that she has the mental fortitude to push through those challenges.

“I love to win, so hopefully I win,” Essemiah said. “But if I don’t win, I guess I’m mature enough to take a loss and go to the next season and then hopefully the outdoor season will go a lot better.”

Essemiah will continue her push for a national championship on Feb. 11 when GVSU hosts the GVSU Big Meet.