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Track freshman Ben Kioko has had to adjust his study schedule for the return to in-person sports. (Photo from Ben Kioko)

Despite only being a freshman on the track team, Ben Kioko has already learned the importance of perseverance and self-efficacy in his sport.

From Princeton, New Jersey, to Philadelphia, Kioko has been on the track team since his sophomore year of high school. However, it wasn't something that he always knew that he wanted to do.

“I did rowing and a capella in high school, and there was a kid in my group who was a sprinter on the track team," Kioko said. "I had been frustrated with rowing because it was way too big of a time commitment.  And I wasn’t feeling like it was the place for me anymore, so he suggested I try out for the track team, so I did. I had a background in baseball so I was like, ‘I'll try something with throwing; I’ll be good at that,' and it kind of worked out from there."

"Kind of" is an understatement — Kioko has since received many accolades for his performance in the field events.

“I went to my first state championship in my first year of track, and then coming into my junior year, I was the number one athlete in New Jersey in javelin," Kioko said. "I was also number four in the country for my grade, so at that point I realized ‘maybe I can actually be good at this.’" 

Of course, the best accolades can only come from someone close to you, and for Kioko, it was his mom.

“My mom has been super supportive of me, not just in track, but in everything," Kioko said. "She was a single mom raising three kids, and I think she did a really good job. It's just really impressive to see how much she put into us, considering how much she was dealing with herself.”

Now that he's at Penn, Kioko can see the same support coming from his fellow teammates and coaches.

“So far, my experience has been super positive and everyone’s super friendly," he said. "I can tell that we all really want to succeed, and we want to see each other succeed, and you know when you're out there, it's really nice to have them all behind you, cheering for you, getting excited when you do well, and you get excited when they do well. [Overall], it's a very close community."

With the track team now competing again, Kioko has had to adjust to the changes that came with the new training schedule. 

“I used to be able to procrastinate," Kioko said. "Like last semester, I would definitely be able to say ‘oh, I can just push that assignment off to next morning, and I’ll do class', but now I have practice before class, so [I have to focus on] time management and moving [my] deadlines forward to adjust for practice, and making sure [I] can find that balance between the practice times and getting [my] work done. But it's definitely doable. It's not impossible by any means.”

As as an athlete, Kioko understands the importance of taking the time to take care of himself, especially when setbacks happen.

"My junior year in high school, I actually tore my UCL, which is the ligament in your elbow," he said. "I couldn't throw, I couldn't do pretty much anything with it. I really thought about quitting but I’d been doing so well, and I really love the sport, so I ended up getting surgery for it, and then doing a full year of physical therapy, and now we are back and I’m pretty well.”

Facing these hardships has never come without lessons, and for Kioko, his situation taught him the importance of determination.

“You know that feeling that I think we all get sometimes — we're like ‘oh, this is an insurmountable goal and there's no way we're gonna be able to actually get there and achieve what we're thinking about achieving so what's the point in trying.’ But I wanted to try, and I wanted to make the effort, and I did. It ended up working out, and so it's [about] just never quitting and never giving up.”

For all incoming Penn track stars and athletes in every sport, Ben has similar advice based on his own experiences. 

“Put in the work. If you want it, go after [it, and] grind for it, and make it happen. And that's about all there is to it.”