by Brian Garland
Fresh off a MASCAC Championships win on Feb. 15, the Bears prepare for the NCAA Division III Championships starting Feb. 29 in Springfield. The track & field team’s captain is senior Olivier Ndikumana (Amherst, MA), a 6-2, 190-pound sprinter and jumper who picked up the sport in his freshman season at Bridgewater State, and helped the Bears secure first place in the 4×400 relay with a time of 3:28.48.
“There are standards you need to hit, and a behavioral code you have to meet, but you can fall back on the expectations you set from the beginning,” he said.
Ndikumana is a double major in Psychology and Elementary Education, and hopes to one day earn his master’s degree and become a behavioral therapist, transition counselor or track coach for children. During the summer, he works at a summer camp as a track coach for 7th graders who are interested in pursuing the sport.
His background and interest in psychology is particularly useful to how he interacts with his teammates, and how he responds to his role as a leader. Track is one way for Ndikumana to combine his passions for sport, competition, and interaction with other people.
These are valuable lessons that his family has taught him. His father Leonce and mother Gaudence first met in college in Burundi, and moved to the United States for a better life experience. Leonce’s love was for volleyball, where he played in a semi-pro league while working as an economics professor, until he accepted a position at UMass Amherst in the Economics department. Gaudence Ndikumana also has a passion for sports, playing volleyball during college.
Olivier has two siblings; Alice and Chris. Alice is attending graduate school at Harvard for health economics, while Chris obtained his master’s degree in Business from the University of Texas at Dallas. The influence to reach success in education and pursue a professional passion is there for Olivier, and he considers himself blessed to grow up in such a family environment that inspires and encourages him to be at his best.
It is no surprise then, that he hopes to inspire and encourage his teammates in the same way. He understands the path to great accomplishment is paved with challenge, determination and proper pacing, so he wants to get a tattoo that reads, “No one ever said it was going to be easy”. In the captain’s opinion, he finds that people want the accolades and achievements, but not everyone is willing to endure the struggles to become great.
The NCAA Division III Championships, for example, are a goal that is certainly in reach for the Bears, but it will not be easy. They won the MASCAC Regional Championships on Feb. 15, but the road to this point has not been smooth.
The team lost 10 athletes heading into the Spring 2020 semester due to academic ineligibility, forcing the team to alter its game plan and make emergency adjustments. The track team’s depth during the fall semester of incoming and returning athletes projected the Bears as a preseason favorite to win the MASCAC Championships and beyond, but now the Bears are arguably a different team than they were last semester.
However, Olivier has learned more about himself in this season as a captain of the team, especially in balance and time management. While keeping up with a hefty course load as a double major in Psychology and Elementary Education, and preparing for the infamous “block” of training classes for student-teaching, Ndikumana practices five days a week with the track & field team, hoping to work “smarter, not harder”. It is difficult to give 100 percent effort everyday, so he has learned to work with 80 percent effort to prevent overexertion before the competitions that matter, like the Division III Championships.
The first leg of the Championships, the New England Regional, starts Feb. 29 in Springfield to decide seeding for the NCAA Division III National Championships in Greensboro, N.C. “I wouldn’t be upset with placement, it’s more about effort. An outcome we don’t expect is okay as long as we work hard,” Ndikumana said.
The long season demands a proper balance between training and rest, and Ndikumana wants to share what he knows as a student and competitor. The Bowdoin Invitational is Feb. 22, and an important preparation for the New England Championships.
Brian Garland is the Sports Editor of The Comment.