2012-05-31 / Sports

Danni is a dandy

Oaks Christian junior will run for Fiji at Olympics
By Eliav Appelbaum

TRIFECTA—Oaks Christian junior track and field standout Danni Alakija has qualified for three events at this weekend’s state finals. 
WENDY PIERRO/Acorn Newspapers TRIFECTA—Oaks Christian junior track and field standout Danni Alakija has qualified for three events at this weekend’s state finals. WENDY PIERRO/Acorn Newspapers Danni Alakija is an intimidating force on the track.

The Oaks Christian junior is tall, graceful and fast.

She’s also a self-described bookworm.

This bookworm is the first track and field student-athlete in Oaks Christian history to qualify in three events at the CIF State Track and Field Championships.

She’s also going to run in this summer’s London Olympics.

Not bad for a teenager who recently turned 16.

Alakija will compete in the girls’ 400-meter run, the 4x100 relay and the 4x400 relay at the state meet, which runs Friday and Saturday at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Clovis.

The Lion will represent Fiji in the 400 at the Olympics.

“It’s amazing seeing what comes out of hard work, coming to practice two hours every day,” Alakija said Tuesday.

“Crossing the finish line makes it all worth it.”

At last weekend’s CIF-Southern Section Masters meet at Cerritos College, the precocious 16-year-old placed third in the 400 in 55.47 seconds.

She ran anchor legs in the 4x100 (47.24) with teammates Schuyler Moore, Sarah Johnson and Asha Culhane, and the 4x400 (3:51.11) with Moore, Johnson and senior Megan Huning.

The Lion boys’ 4x100 sprint relay squad of Terry Lee Johnson, Vinnie Saucer, Ishmael Adams and Francis Owusu advanced to state.

At Clovis, Alakija will contend for a top-three finish in the 400. She has the potential to run in the 54-second range.

She zoomed through the 400 in 55 seconds flat at the CIF-SS Divisional Finals.

The biggest transformation has been in her mind.

“The biggest strides I made are mentally staying strong,” Alakija said, “looking at my competition and thinking I can beat them.”

Alakija and her family spent two months together in Fiji at the onset of the year.

She returned to the states in mid-March. Her parents remain on the island nation.

“I miss them a lot,” said Alakija, an only child. “I Skype my parents every day—sometimes twice a day.”

She will fly back to Fiji to see her parents on June 9.

Alakija caught up on her missed coursework just in time for this week’s finals. The standout student takes honors English, honors Latin and Advanced Placement biology.

The junior is a citizen of three countries—England, Nigeria and Fiji.

She was born in the London Borough of Hillingdon. Her mother is from Nigeria. Her father’s family has roots in Brazil and England, while her grandmother on her dad’s side of the family is Welsh.

Alakija moved to Fiji at six months old, and spent most of her life on the island nation. She moved to California at age 11.

To say she’s excited about running in the Olympics mere miles from her birthplace is the understatement of the decade.

“It’s going to be amazing,” Alakija said.

Oaks Christian sprints coach Maurice Greene knows a thing or two about competing on the world’s grandest stage.

Greene won four Olympic medals, including two golds at the 2000 Sydney Games in the men’s 100 and 4x100 relay.

“I told her to just go there and have fun,” Greene said.

“Just enjoy the whole Olympic movement. Don’t have high expectations, just enjoy the whole Olympic movement.”

Greene said he’s enjoyed working with Alakija.

“She’s a wonderful young lady,” the coach said. “She overcame a lot this year. She withstood all of it. . . .

“Danni is a phenomenal athlete. She’s always in good spirits, and she works hard. She really took on a position of being a leader. This year, she took other girls under her wing and tried to help everyone get better.”

Teammates and coaches are impressed with Alakija, who’s in the middle of re-reading “The Last Olympian,” the fifth novel in the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan.

“Danni is one of the hardest working athletes you’ll ever find,” Culhane said. “She pushes us all.

“At first, she comes off as intimidating. Once you get to know her, she’s hilarious. She’s really sweet.”

Head coach Wes Smith said Alakija is a ferocious competitor.

“She’s determined,” Smith said. “She can run with anyone in that (400) field.”

Alakija has had to grow up fast this year, but the adversity will only make her stronger.

“I’ve been given a gift,” Alakija said. “It’s important to make use of it. This is my passion.”

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