Seychelles native Ned Azemia gets back in the groove for UTEP track
Seychelles native Ned Azemia gets back in the groove for UTEP track
Not everything that went away during COVID is coming back.
For a time, Ned Azemia's speed, his ability to clear hurdles as quickly as almost any collegian in America, looked to be one of those things that simply vanished.
Turns out, UTEP's senior 400-meter hurdler from Victoria, Seychelles, just needed a little time to get all that back in order.
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Three years after a silver medal for Western Texas College at the NJCAA championships, two years after having to leave the University of Miami for his African home because of the COVID shutdown, one year after a transfer to UTEP and initially coming up short of his goals and standards, Azemia is starting to feel the lightning returning to his legs.
Azemia heads to the Conference USA Championships this week in San Antonio with a season-best time of 51.31 seconds, a second and a half slower than what he ran in 2018, but it's also more than a second faster than anyone else in C-USA.
More than that, his best time this year came last week and gave one more indication the two-time Olympian is finding his form.
"This is the season I feel like my freshman year when I ran 49," Azemia said. "I want to leave it all out there for my senior season. My first season didn't go as planned, but coach (Davian) Clarke kept the faith, he still believed in me. I've worked very had to get back to running well this season."
Clarke added: "This year he's coming into his own. We had a little setback in indoor, he was injured and missed the conference championships, but he's coming back. Even though he has his fastest time so far this year, we fully expect that he's going to run much faster.
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"He's had a long journey, coming all the way from Seychelles. Last year was tough for him, working on a few things that were different from what he was doing at his previous school."
This is all part of a process that began more than a year ago when Clarke coaxed Azemia to make his way to El Paso from Seychelles, an island nation in the Indian Ocean, about 1,500 miles east of Eldoret, Kenya where so many of his teammates are from.
After a distinguished career at Western Texas in Snyder, that included a third-place finish at nationals and a silver as a sophomore, Azemia transferred to Miami, but that ended in March 2020 with the lockdown that sent him back home. From there he lost his conditioning, had a child and considered never making his way back to America.
Clarke "saw me in the transfer portal and asked me what was going on," Azemia said. "I was hesitant at first, but he convinced me. I saw the bigger picture. With a daughter, I saw that I needed to finish my degree and continue my athletic career. That was convincing, that made sense, so I came back."
He wasn't ready to run fast times right away.
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"My race pattern, my weight change when COVID was here, the lockdown and stuff, I had a baby when I went back home after two years of college," Azemia said. "That's been my journey, that's why I haven't been able to compete at the highest level, but the journey to get back, I trust in coach Clark, trust in coach Lacena (Golding-Clarke, his technical coach) and just listen to what they tell me."
Interestingly, though he is more than 10,000 miles from home, the cultural adjustment has not been as challenging. He learned at Western Texas that he shares much in common with teammates from literally the opposite side of the world in the Caribbean.
Seychelles, Jamaica and the Bahamas are all British Commonwealth countries with English as an official language.
"Western Texas had a lot of island kids, Caribbean kids Jamaica, Bahamas I could get along with everyone," Azemia said. "We were all islanders, me from the other end of the world, but all islanders. It's basically the same, the same food, so we got along well.
"UTEP also has people from the Bahamas, Jamaica, that's been a great bonding atmosphere. We have people from all over the world, different cultures. That's what I like, the diversity. I can learn from everyone, everyone can learn from me. We learn from each other."
What Seychelles offers is an attainable bar to make the national team, which Azemia has done on many occasions. He ran in the previous two Olympics and plans on running in the Commonwealth Games and African Championships this summer. If he can run a 48.9 between now and July, he will be able to run in the World Championships in Eugene, Ore.
That's going to take a lot of improving, but Azemia senses that after two years of searching for his form, he's finding it.
"I'm planning on coming back stronger, win conference, go to regionals, go to nationals, go all the way," he said.
That starts this weekend in San Antonio.
Bret Bloomquist can be reached at 915-546-6359; email@example.com; @Bretbloomquist on Twitter.
When, where: Thursday-Sunday, Park West Athletics Complex, San Antonio
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