‘It’s Been Five Years of Hard Work And Dedication’: Ford Engineer Qualifies For Games In Tokyo

Ford employees working remotely through the COVID-19 pandemic may say they’ve been more productive, but CiCi Onyekwere, design and release engineer for F-Series Super Duty, has what may be the best remote work success story – she qualified for the Tokyo games this summer.

Onyekwere, 26, who joined the company as a Ford College Graduate five years ago, has traveled the world for years participating in track and field events. Working from home for over a year now, the absence of a commute into the office every day has given her more time to dedicate to training and competition. Onyekwere, ranked 16th in the world and No. 1 in Africa in discus, will be competing for her native Nigeria, from which she emigrated to the U.S. at age 10.

“It means the world to me to be able to compete in Tokyo,” she said. “It’s been five years of hard work and dedication. I can’t really put it into words, but it means so much that I can work at Ford and be able to call myself an Olympian.”

Through all of this, her managers and supervisors have been flexible and understanding. Onyekwere says this supportive family environment is one of the reasons she came to work for Ford.

Olympic training in the COVID era

While the pandemic brought more flexibility, COVID-related closures kept gyms shuttered for significant amounts of time over the last year. When the gym where Onyekwere lifts weights several times a week did reopen, it was forced to limit attendance to those who reserved space daily, adding another hurdle to her training.

She wakes up as early as 5 a.m. to practice throwing, which in the winter must be done indoors, often on a racquetball court. While Onyekwere has struggled to maintain strength, she’s used the time in isolation to hone her techniques. “I had the most social distancing,” she said. “I was able to go out there and throw and just focus on technique.”

Balancing training with work is nothing new for Onyekwere, who long ago began juggling priorities as a college athlete at the University of Maryland, managing academics and extracurricular activities. “I got very big into the routine of balancing track and schoolwork from the beginning,” she said. “I learned how to work with time management really well.”

Not only did Onyekwere miss out on competing last year, she was unable to make her annual visit to see family in Nigeria. Now a national champion following the recent Nigerian Olympic trials, she’s hoping she has a new medal to show them when she does so this summer.

The games that were due to take place in summer 2020 have now been rescheduled to begin July 23 – a full year later. Onyekwere will compete in the discus qualifying round on July 31. Share your thoughts and well wishes for Onyekwere below in the comments section.

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