Like so many young boys, Michael Ohioze dreamt of becoming a professional soccer player while growing up.
So when in 2013 he was offered the chance to leave his family home in Mill Hill and move to America to take up a soccer scholarship at St Ambrose University in Iowa, it looked like his dream was on course.
It didn’t take long for Ohioze, now 21, to settle in his new team and he made an immediate impact, scoring four goals in his first three matches.
“He was making a name for himself, his pace frightened defenders – we hadn’t seen a player so quick before,” said team-mate Shaquille Jones. And it is that pace which has opened up the possibility of another career for the young Londoner.
With the soccer season only lasting half the year, that left him with no competitive action for the second semester – so, to keep in shape, Jones suggested he try out for the university athletics team.
“I told Michael to attend the trials – it would give him something to do for the rest of the year, and I was sure he would make it,” he explained.
It turned out to be an inspired decision, as just two months into life in the US, Ohioze was offered the chance to earn another scholarship, which would help him pay off his fees – which had to be paid up front by his family, rather than the government paying as they do back home.
“Times do get hard because it’s expensive. Everything has to be paid upfront and I don’t get any loans, so financially it takes a lot out of my parents,” he said.
The thought of playing competitively in two sports across the year might seem exhausting for some players, but not Ohioze. “Essentially, training for track helps me towards soccer as I become faster and more of a threat,” he said.
The stats don’t lie, and Ohioze finished top scorer of his league in his first season, with 13 goals in 19 games contributing to his side finishing in a respectable seventh place out of 13 teams in the Chicagoland Conference.
He also broke the college’s record in the 60m, 100m, 200m, as well helping to set new marks in both the 4x100m and 4x400m relays. These successes on the track granted him a national ranking within the top 50 in his country.
As well as all his achievements, Ohioze’s time on the track also gave him something else. “The love I have for track now is almost on par with football,” he explained. “I just love doing it.”
He also began to appear on the radar of British Athletics back home in the UK .
“I came here to play one sport and now I’ve got two options, so whatever happens it’s been a hugely worthwhile experience”
“I understand if I run a certain time this year, I qualify to compete against the top UK runners back home, and if I do well enough, I could potentially compete for the UK for my age group,’ said Ohioze. “But it’s a process, I have to work hard and go for it.”
Leaving home at the age of 18 to move to a new country would be a daunting enough prospect for even the most well-prepared of youngsters. In Ohioze’s case, it was even more challenging as his mother was suffering health problems when he left.
But rather than worry, he claims this has acted as a huge motivation to try and achieve even more.
“At that time we had some health issues with my mum, and I always wanted to be there for her, so it was really tough,” he said. “But coming out here and doing her proud helped – and it helps her fight every day.”
Ohioze has 18 months left until he finishes his course at St Ambrose. The big question is what is he going to pursue afterwards – football or athletics?
“l can’t exactly say I’d pick one over the other because I just want to be successful and both make me happy, and I love both,” he said. “I think I may pick football if it came down to it – mainly because I’ve followed it longer than I have track and probably because it pays better too.
“I may not make it as a professional athlete altogether, so we will have to see. I’m studying Physical Education along with my scholarships so if I get a degree in that I would be able to coach either track or football instead.
“I came here to play one sport and now I’ve got two options, so whatever happens it’s been a hugely worthwhile experience.”
Images courtesy of St Ambrose University