Senior Toni Aluko, one of the most decorated track athletes in Maryland history, continues to jump to new heights. Aluko is in the Terrapin record books several times, as she holds the second- and third-best indoor high jumps in school history and is fifth on the triple jump list. She has competed on the international level as a member of the USA World Youth Team in 2003 and won a gold medal in the Junior Olympics. Aluko uses her determination to get things done off the track as well, as she is a member of Maryland's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) and as a representative to the ACC SAAC.
When did you get involved in competing in track and field?
I started to compete in outdoor track in ninth grade because I was playing basketball and wanted a way to stay in shape. I had a friend who had run on a club track team before and tried to get me to run on it, but it never quite stuck (until then). I was always focused on basketball. I transitioned over to just track my junior year - that's the first year I ran indoor and outdoor.
How did you get into the jumping events, specifically?
My coach said (he was going to try me out) in the high jump because I was a good height. He wanted to see if I had a knack for it, and it really stuck. It was just so much fun to me and I picked it up really quickly. Trying the long jump and triple jump were a matter of me trying out different areas and seeing where I was most successful.
What is the best advice you've received from a coach?
Who is your most influential role model?
My high jump coach - Frank Costello - always says that you don't want to go through life underachieving. You don't want to look back on your college career and say, "I could have been..." or "I should have been..." I took that as meaning that you have to be your best at every opportunity, put your best foot forward, and give it all on the track. Once it's gone, you can never get it back. He told me that he believes in me, but I have to believe in myself. That's one thing I always keep in the back of my mind.
Both of my parents. Over the years, I've really grown close to my mom, but they have both been really supportive with track and have never put any pressure on me to compete. If I said I didn't want to run anymore or jump anymore, they would never say that I needed to do it. (Their support) been helpful in transitioning from high school to college and during the times when I haven't done so well. They've encouraged me to continue to work hard and just really have fun.
What is your greatest accomplishment so far as an athlete?
Winning (the) ACC (individual title) was a big accomplishment for me. I look back through everything that I went through. In high school and the first couple of years, everything was slow and then came a point where I had a lot of rapid success. Then I started over in college again and went through that whole path again and then in my junior year, I accomplished something big. It was important not only for me, but for our team. I felt that was the biggest gift I could give them because we're still new and emerging. For awhile, I couldn't even believe that I had won - it was so beyond me.
What do you still hope to accomplish?
I haven't gone to nationals yet, so I hope to continue to jump high and continue to be consistent and earn my way to nationals by working hard. For women's high jump, it's a six-foot barrier. If I can jump six feet consistently, I can be competitive.
What is it like competing in a conference like the ACC?
Within the ACC, there is so much talent. I also like the championships and having to go out with the attitude that it's anybody's game, anybody can win. I think the ACC is a great conference, there are so many strengths. It's so exciting to be a part of this conference.
How do you balance being a student-athlete?
Can you talk about how your involvement in other areas, like SAAC, has impacted your student-athlete experience?
A lot of it has to do with putting priorities in check. It's really easy to put a lot of emphasis on the athletic and not so much on the academic, but when you realize that they have to go hand in hand, you have to learn time management and get help when you need it. We have a great academic support department here and I think it's important to utilize those resources and utilize the people who are here to make sure that life as a student and as an athlete are cohesive. For me personally, it's actually a lot easier because I know if I have practice or are traveling over the weekend and have a paper due, I need to get it done beforehand. I can't procrastinate. It's about managing my time and being very organized.
It has shown me that there is so much more to being a student-athlete than what people see. There are so many policies that affect us and because we have a big influence, there are so many things that we need to have a say in. Being a part of SAAC is one of those areas that has really allowed me to realize that there's so much outside of just being an athlete. (Things like) traveling to the meetings in North Carolina and working with Eric Wood, talking with compliance - things like that make me realize that we have a job to represent our schools and also have an obligation to future student-athletes. Our job doesn't end when we leave our respective playing fields, it goes on into the outside world and the NCAA. We have a huge responsibility to maintain the integrity of student-athletes in this country.
What is your most memorable moment in sports?
I was part of the 2003 World Youth Team USA group that went to Sherbert, Canada, and it was an amazing experience. It was my first time being on the international competitive level and I met so many great people. I know it's not an opportunity that every track athlete gets, so I know I can't take for granted that I was part of something as big as a Team USA team.
Why did you choose Maryland?
It's funny because Maryland wasn't even on my top list when I was being recruited. I really didn't know that much about the program even though it's in my home state. When Coach Valmon called me, I liked the way he talked about the program and the direction he said the program was going. I wanted to be part of a program that wasn't so established that I would just be a number, just the freshman coming in and feel like I have to fight for my spot. Some people can do that, but I wanted to go to a program where I felt I could (contribute) immediately. I also like that it's in my home state. My mom said when you're local, you have people looking out for you and it's true. Coming into college, it's essential to have some sort of support system. I love the team, I love the school and the academic programs they have - it was a complete package for me.
Do you have plans for after graduation?
I'm definitely going to take a year off because I just need some time. I have enjoyed being a student-athlete, but it's a full-time job. I'm going to work (next year), because I want to go into the public health field and they prefer that you get work experience first. I plan to attend graduate school in the fall of 2009, and am looking for a combined public health and law program so I can work in public health policy.
Toni Aluko and the Terrapins return to the track tomorrow (2/23) for the second day of the Virginia Tech Challenge before next week's ACC Track & Field Championships at the University of North Carolina (2/28 - 3/1).