Olympic bronze medallist Marilyn Okoro announces her retirement with a message to athletics
Dear Track and Field,
Thank you for all the memories and lessons and even more so, the very many blessings! I started this year sure of one thing and one thing only and that was: it was time to let go, in order for me to continue to GROW!
Hindsight is both a blessing and a curse. The former because it helps give you the processing and coping skills to accept the closure needed to move on to what’s next, yet still a curse because you start to think of all the things you shoulda, woulda, coulda done differently! But hey, that is life, and I endeavour every day to channel those feeling into a positive outlet by giving back as much as possible to the next generation, in the hope that they will go on to ‘Dream Bigger’ and ‘Achieve Greater’.
Surprisingly, my decision to retire was rather uneventful. The final run of the final week of the year 2020, and what a year that was! Most say a year to forget but for me it will be the year to remember because by the end of it, it positioned me to find the greatest gift there is in life, MY PEACE. I took off my trainers that day and I just knew I would not be putting them on again any time soon… and it felt absolutely brilliant!
I can tell you it has been seven whole years for me to free myself from this entanglement with Track and Field, this dynamic, fast-paced, diverse and all-encompassing chasm of fun and euphoria, hard work and discipline and not forgetting the inevitable heartbreak.
And so, my ‘thank yous’. The words alone will never be enough nor can I possibly begin to mention everyone to whom I owe so much and who has played a part no matter how big or small to my incredible journey. If you are not directly mentioned please take this entire letter as a warm and sincere ‘thank you’ (and send a WhatsApp to cuss me later!).
Good old George! The stalwart of Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers, legendary track and field coach. The catalyst and coach to so many stellar careers. I am humbled I got to call you coach, but so much more than that, you were the father figure and mentor I needed in those early years to ensure I stayed in the sport and made it to where I am today. They say you never forget your first, and I will never forget the life you paved the way for me, George Harrison. Thank you will never suffice!
In the same breath I would like to say a huge thank you to my club since day one, Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers. #Upthestripes. Thank you for the experiences, the sessions, the competitions and the bonds. What a family. I am blessed to have met and trained with so many incredible people who from the beginning took me in as one of their own. A special mention to Stef and Nadeem who nurtured and continue to mentor me to this day. Also our club president Geoff Morphitis, thank you for always having my back! ‘A club is for life, not just the competition’ and I will treasure my vest with great pride always.
Ayo Falola. I can hear your bellowing laugh now saying ‘what took you so long, girl?’! I pray you are looking down and proud because as you said to me many a time after a beasty session or race, ‘go shock ’em, Maz’ and I believe we did just that, quite a fair few times! Thank you for your crazy faith. Rest in easy, Coach Ayo.
UK Athletics and British Athletics. A governing body like no other, charged with the most difficult of tasks, to lead and steer a sport with so many moving parts and disciplines, personalities and characters. There is so much I did not understand about the world I was entering as a young 18-year-old just running a foot race as fast as she could. As much as I delivered for our team, I know I have not been the easiest soldier at times, but that’s the beauty of our sport – we all come in different shapes and sizes, colours, creeds and frames of references. There will never be one size to fit all, that is the spice of track and field. Still, you continue to steer the ship and ensure British track and field remains vibrant and inviting and I know you will continue to do everything in your power to ensure British track stars are among the most celebrated and admired across the globe. For that, I will forever be a proud British athlete and do all I can to continue the legacy of British track and field. Cherry Alexander and Karen Forbes – my ‘Girls’ – thank you for always fighting my corner!
The Fans. Where would we be without our fans? Our biggest and best supporters, always there come rain or shine. Whether live of virtual you are there cheering us on to push ourselves. I know I speak on behalf of many athletes when I say we often owe our final push in the closing stages of competition to the ROAR and spirit of our fans – there is simply nothing that can replicate that feeling! Special mentions to the British Athletes Supporters Club for all you do to support our team!
To my friends and family, my TRIBE, for supporting and championing me, for loving and being proud of Marilyn Okoro the athlete, but always putting first ‘Maz’ the human, mood swings and all (sorry guys!). You accept me win or lose, medal or no medal. You are there in the highs and most significantly, in the lows, always there to pick me up, dust me off and simply love me – thank you! You all have front row seats to the reality of an elite athlete journey. Thank you for grounding me and keeping me humble and, on many an occasion, going!
My ‘SISTAS in Track’ Gemma (Bennett), Montell (Douglas), Zainab (Ceesay), Nusrat (Ceesay), Sandra (Aleneme) Laura (Walton nee Langowski), Tasha (Danvers), Christine (Ohurougu), Anyika (Onoura), Donna (Fraser), Jenny (Meadows), Hazel (Clark), Tamsyn (Manou), Kenia (Sinclair). You know what your friendship and support means to me. Our sisterhood weighs more than gold. Respect to my ‘Bros in track’, Abs (Bahari), Samson (Oni,) Andy (Turner), Dwain (Chambers), Christian (Malcolm) and Marlon (Devonish). I couldn’t ask for better examples of strong, successful and nurturing male role models – I appreciate you! To all I have had the immense privilege to be on a national team with and especially my relay girls, thank you for the memories (and medals) that will last a life time.
Thank you Joy and Daniel, my brother and sister. My cheerleaders, always there. It’s not easy having a sporting sibling but you guys are always ‘my why’, so thank you for putting up with me and the many disruptions to our lives, although it did come with some perks too, right?! As family isn’t always blood, I must extend mentions to Benjamin McGuinness – a best friend like no other, no matter where I am in the globe, you are there! The Mintridge Foundation led by my amazing friend and inspiration Alex Wallace (founder), incredible to see how are far we have come to harness the power of sporting role models and unlock the potential of so many young minds and budding sports stars of the future! Forever your deputy! This brings me on to the fan favourite, Mamma Okoro. My mummy, my biggest fan. The beginning was tough, you were my very first ‘NO’, but what a fuel you were. I only ever meant to make you proud. It’s funny now because you are taking this retirement harder than me! From you I learned what strength really looked like, like a true Nigerian Mother, thank you for teaching and equipping me for the fight!
Last but by no means least, thank you ATHLETES, British and worldwide. You share my crazy passion for a sport that comes with zero guarantees, I am in awe of all of you. Sportsmen and women who dedicate their lives to chasing their dreams. I can only say this – it won’t be easy, in fact that word doesn’t exist in sport. Learn to love the bits you hate and accept that in the process you will gain the biggest learnings about your craft but more importantly, yourself. Know that you are never alone, there is always someone who cares, is willing to listen and if you are reading this and feel this is not your reality then I am here to say I personally nominate myself because I know all too well how lonely it can get, but the reality is no one achieves greatness alone. It takes a village, a community and peer-to-peer support and compassion. So, find your tribe and hold them close, savour the wins big and small, stay present and learn from the losses, never stop being a student of your craft and never be afraid to use your voice! I see you, I hear you and I champion you! Remember track is only a fraction of the life you have waiting beyond your sport, so don’t be afraid to start with the end in mind and prepare for the moment when you can ‘sport’ no more.
‘It won’t be easy but in the end it was oh so worth it’. No regrets, just lessons. Thank you, Track and Field!
Yours in Sport,
Olympic bronze medallist