Three years ago, she had never been to Texas, much less heard of TCU. This year, she aims to graduate a three-time NCAA champion for the Horned Frogs.
Long jumper Lorraine Ugen grew up in London.
“She actually started out as a gymnast,” said Ugen’s older sister, Ese Agboiyi. “She loved to compete in competitions, so her drive and determination were very apparent even at a young age.”
Ugen’s first experience on a track was at her school’s annual sports day. At age 14 she joined a track club as a sprinter. Within two years, she was long jumping.
Since stepping on TCU’s manicured grounds, the junior film-television-digital media major has won two national titles in her event and been to the Olympic trials.
Ugen said that she never thought she would live outside of London.
“Funny enough, I had never heard of TCU before they recruited me,” Ugen said.
The setup of American schools attracted Ugen enough to leave her home.
“The schools are so much bigger here, more sports-oriented,” Ugen said. She added school and sports are separate in England; typically athletes must join a club outside of school.
“Sometimes the schedules will clash, and it’s like, ‘Do you go to lecture? Or do you go to practice?’” Ugen said. “It was hard to decide which one you want to go to.”
Ugen said the U.S. schools work to schedule both sets of commitments.
TCU’s track and field head coach Darryl Anderson said recruiting the London native was interesting.
“She was one of the top in her age group internationally,” Anderson said.
He also mentioned England was a great place to recruit because there is no language barrier, making the transition that much easier.
Ugen didn’t even visit TCU during the recruiting process. Her first time ever coming to Fort Worth was Fall of her first year as a Horned Frog.
“When I first came here, the one thing that was weird for me was that it is so much slower here,” Ugen said. “I came here and looked around, and I was like, ‘Where is everyone?’”
Her parents’ first visit was last November. Ugen said they kept asking her where everyone is.
When Ugen won the outdoor title for long jump last year, she followed former Frog Whitney Gipson. Gipson, who graduated in 2012, was the national champion in indoor and outdoor long jump in the same year.
A seven-time all-American during her TCU career, Gipson now runs for Nike.
“She is a reason why I succeeded in the long jump my senior year,” Gipson said. “It was good practicing with someone on my level or better.”
Ugen said she looked at Gipson’s jumping record while first looking at schools. When she saw how much Gipson improved during her time at TCU, Ugen knew her jumps would improve as well.
Living only 20 minutes away from the Olympic Stadium in London made the 2012 games that much more desirable for Ugen.
“That one meant so much because I really wanted to go to a home Olympics,” she said. “There will never be in my lifetime another time to go to an Olympics in my hometown. That made me want to go even more.”
Ugen finished second in the British Olympic Trials for the London 2012 Olympics. She missed the qualifying mark by one centimeter.
Leading by Example
Ugen’s coach called her “the silent assassin.”
“Lorraine is the girl who leads by example,” Anderson said. “Her perspective is if you see me working hard and the results that I’m having, then you should do the same thing.”
So far, this approach has done her well.
She won the national championship last year with a partially torn patellar tendon in her jump knee. Ugen said she stayed under the radar for most of the outdoor season because of the injury.
Gipson said she tells Ugen “it only takes one jump to win; no matter how it looks, it only takes one.”
Ugen’s 6.77 meter jump to win the national title at the outdoor championships last June proved just that. Her two previous jumps were poor, but that one put her more than a foot ahead of her closest competitor.
Ugen didn’t expect to win on that jump in particular either, so she was surprised. However, she entered the competition aiming to win.
“We knew going into it that that was the goal, that I wanted to win,” Ugen said. “People that know me knew that I had the potential to win.”
Winning the indoor title this March solidified her as the top collegiate long-jumper in the nation.
“A lot of people that didn’t really know me thought that the outdoor title was a fluke,” Ugen said. “To get the indoor title as well really cemented that it wasn’t a one-time deal.”
This year, Ugen’s goals are to win the outdoor NCAA Championships and medal at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, this summer.
“The goal for the year is what keeps me motivated,” she said. “When I feel like I’m getting tired or this work is tough, the one thing that keeps me motivated is thinking of the goal of what I want to do for the rest of the season, and that’s what keeps me going while I’m practicing.”
Anderson always noticed that Ugen’s objectives were different from those of her American teammates. When you’re coming from another country, you’re coming here for a reason, he said.
“Her biggest thing is I want to improve, I want to get a competitive advantage so that I can go back and represent my country in the world championships or the Olympic games,” Anderson said.
Agboiyi sees quite a future for her talented sister.
“I know that she has a lot more to offer, and I believe [her passion for what she does] is what will ultimately enable her to achieve her dreams,” Agboiyi said.
Instead of looking for a job or internship this summer like many other students, Ugen has a different goal in her sights.
“I don’t just want to go to the Olympics,” Ugen said. “I want to medal.”