Steve Ezeji-Okoye and John Perkins
They are somewhat unlikely heroes. Neither is a particularly classic of Head runner, but what they lack in style they make up in dedication.
The co-captains of the Harvard men's track team, Steve Ezeji-Okoye and John Perkins literally run themselves ask. In fact, they are renowned for having the weakest stomachs on the squad.
This winter, when they decided to see which of two "gives more" to the team, "I won hands down," Ezeji-Okoye boasts. "The day I lost it four times clinened it."
Although their dedication has taken extreme forms at times, the senior captains have been largely responsible for the success of the Harvard men's track team this year.
On the track, both compete in numerous events and score in almost every race they enter.
For the past four years, Ezeji-Okoye has dominated the hurdling events. The Kirkland House resident holds the University record for 55 and 110 meter hurdles and won the indoor. Heptagonal 55 hurdles in February. He set at Harvard and Heps record in the 400 hurdles at last Sunday's meet, qualifying for Nationals.
Though his specialty is the hurdles, he is also a talented 400 and 500 meter runner, and runs a leg in both the sprint relay and the mile relay.
Eike Ezeji-Okoye, Perkins is a multi-talented runner. Although his specialties are the middle-distance events, such as the 800, 1000 and 1500, he runs cross country in the fall and can run in the 3000 and 5000.
The Mater House resident is also a key member of the two-mile and distance medley relay squads, and took third in the 1500 at last Sunday's Heps.
While both are essential to the team as point scores, what distinguishes this duo is that ability to inspire other team members.
"I'm not into conducting cheering frenzies," Ezeji-Okoye says. "I just try to give the runners something to think about which will cause them to motivate themselves."
Their efforts are certainly appreciated by their teammates.
"They're very in tune with the team," senior Jim Herberich says, "They go out of their way to show that they care and it's nice to know that they're pulling for you."
One of the reasons Perkins and Ezeji-Okoye are able to maintain such a close relationship with their teammates is that their specialties are so different. Perkins is able to empathize with the distance runners, while Ezeji-Okoye can relate to the woes of the sprinters.
They complement each other not only in running strengths, but in personalities. Perkins takes everything but his running quite slowly, while Ezeji-Okoye is much more excitable.
"John is steady and meticulous," his counterpart comments. "I'm more flamboyant and he keeps me from getting carried away."
Both captains began running in junior high, but took it up seriously in high school. Perkins started his track career as a sprinter, then moved to middle-distance events when the entered Princeton (N.J.) High School.
"I was too slow for the 100," he says, "When I got to high school, the coach put me in the hall-mile and that was it."
In his senior year, Perkins ran in the mile at the New Jersey state championships and finished second, behind future teammate Cliff Sheehan.
However, when Perkins arrived at Harvard he played junior varsity hockey instead of running track.
"My high school track program was very intense and when I got here, I was burned out," he explains. After one season, however, of sitting on the J.V. hockey benefit, Perkins decided to return to-track for the outdoor season.
"I started running again because it was something I wanted to do, not just something I'd always done," he says.
Although his performance that spring were disappointing, Perkins has showed steady improvement since his return to running and is now running as well as he as ever has.
Ezejo-Okoye was born in England but spent most of his first four years in Nigeria. A few months after the Nigeria-Biafra war broke out. Ezeji-Okoye, his mother and sister escaped on a French ammunitions plane and returned to England.
The entire Ezeji-Okoye family headed to Canada in 1970, after Steve's rather rejoined the family. A few years later, the future track captain returned to England to attend Clifton College, a secondary school, and it was there that he started competing in the hurdles.
he arrived at Harvard unrecruited and unsure of himself. A series of mishaps in his first few meets did title to boost his confidence.
"I began to wonder if I could cut it," he says. "I kept expecting [Harvard Coach] Frank [Haggerty] to rank me."
However, Haggerty stuck with the hurdler and by the end of the indoor season, he was winning the 55-meter hurdles.
Whole both Ezeji-Okoye and Perkins have evolved as runners during their four years at Harvard, both have unconventional running style.
"It's a good thing that running just like ski jumping, where scoring is a combination of performance and style." Ezeji-Okoye says with a smile. "Because of the were, John wouldn't win anything."
Of course neither would I.