Going for Gold: Former FCPS Athletes Fulfill Olympic Dream
Every four years, the world’s best athletes pack their bags, board a plane, and embark on the journey of a lifetime to the Olympic Games. This year, some of the remarkable young men and women heading to Tokyo are Fairfax County Public School graduates. Below, they talk about their memories of FCPS and their hopes for the Games beginning on Friday, July 23. Be sure to cheer them on!
Andrew Seliskar, a 2015 graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST), will swim for Team USA as part of the 4x200 relay team.
Seliskar is heading to his first Olympics after a successful college career at the University of California, Berkeley, where he won four individual national titles and hoisted the NCAA team trophy in 2019. During high school, Seliskar set the United States public high school record in the 100-yard breaststroke with a time of 53.24 seconds. He also swam for the highly competitive Nation's Capital Swim Club, and spent a lot of time focused on his academic studies; but Seliskar says some of his favorite memories are the Friday night meets representing TJ.
“Some of those meets we had against the rival high schools, those were great memories, and for my swimming career, those are some of the best ones,” Seliskar said. “It’s not as often now when I swim that we have those lighthearted dual meets. So those high school times were a ton of fun.”
Former TJHSST Head Coach Ian Handerhan says Seliskar came into his freshmen year with a lot of talent, and it was fun to watch him grow and improve. Handerhan is now the head coach at the nationally recognized club team The Capitol Sea Devils, and sees a lot of skilled swimmers, but he says very few make it this far.
“There's a lot of really fast kids that you get to coach in this area and you get to see, but there's just not that many of them that make it to the Olympics,” Handerhan said.
Seliskar also made it to the Olympic Trials in 2012 and 2016. Now that he’s made the team, he says he’s working hard to prepare, but also taking time to enjoy the experience. In the weeks leading up to the opening ceremony, Team USA swimmers trained in Honolulu.
“These camps are always an electric atmosphere,” Seliskar said. “We have the entire U.S. Olympic Team here and we’re all training at the same pool. These are guys I’ve competed against and we’re all teammates now and we’re working together. It’s a ton of energy. I think everyone’s really excited to get to Tokyo and swim as fast as we can.”
Chioma Onyekwere, a 2012 Robinson Secondary School graduate, will throw discus for Team Nigeria.
Chioma Onyekwere spent the last year juggling a career as an automotive engineer at Ford Motor Company, planning her wedding, and preparing for the Olympics. On top of all that, Onyekwere also dealt with the heartache of losing family members to COVID-19. Last fall, she moved back to Fairfax County from Detroit to be closer to family. Through it all, she continued practicing her discus throwing, spending much of her time on FCPS fields and sending videos to her coach for feedback.
“I’m just so grateful it’s all worked out,” Onyekwere said. “All the hard work and all the sacrifices I've made throughout this time have really worked out.”
Onyekwere attended the University of Maryland, where she set the second highest score in women's discus in school history, and earned several Big Ten honors. She’s also a two-time African Champion and currently holds the national record for discus throw in Nigeria. Onyekwere is a dual-citizen of the U.S. and Nigeria, and spent much of her childhood in Africa.
“I feel like Nigeria made me the person I am today, so it’s so nice to give back in some kind of way and represent them.”
Onyekwere says balancing a full-time job, family, and her professional sports career can be overwhelming, but good time management is key. She says her education in engineering has actually helped her excel in her sport.
“My brain does work a little bit differently.” Onyekwere said. “I will understand if I throw the discus at this angle it’s gonna fly further because of the velocity and distance, and gravitational pull. It helps me see things in a bigger picture.”
Onyekwere says her next goal is to get on the podium in Tokyo and to break the discus throw record for all of Africa.
Trevor Stewart, a 2016 South County High School graduate, will run track for Team USA in the 4x400-meter relay.
Trevor Stewart spent the last few years at North Carolina A&T State University, where he recently competed for a NCAA national championship just two weeks before the Olympic Trials. During his younger years, Stewart spent much of his time practicing karate but switched over to track his freshman year of high school.
“It didn't come easy,” Stewart said. “I had to change how I ate. Change how I carry myself. Literally change how I walk. I used to walk outwards, now I had to put my foot inwards to get my form right when I run.”
Between finishing up his college career and getting ready for Tokyo in a matter of weeks, Stewart says he’s been using prayer and meditation to keep his mind focused. Even with the quick turnaround, he’s maintained his daily training and stayed focused on the basics.
“I’m on another team now, it’s another jersey, but I’m running the same exact race. But it feels great, cause I can say I’m an Olympian! I worked hard for this. There’s always room for improvement, but I’ve made it right now. I’ve made it right here.”
Stewart’s major was Liberal Studies and he hopes to be an author one day. He’s encouraging young athletes in Fairfax County to never give up on their dreams.
“Work hard, stay focused. When you’re dedicated, everything is gonna come to you.” Stewart said. “As long as you're willing to go the extra mile for what you want in life, it’s always gonna be there for you.”
Lucas Kozeniesky, a 2013 Robinson Secondary School graduate, will compete for Team USA in Rifle Shooting: 10-meter air rifle, three-position.
Lucas Kozeniesky attended North Carolina State University, graduating in 2017 with a degree in Sports Management. He also competed in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. In the 2018 World Championships, he placed 15th in the prone shooting stance. He has also opened his own shooting consultation business focused on supporting youth athletes.