Ashley Anumba can throw a discus over 188 feet — more than half the length of a football field. She would have been in Tokyo this summer as a member of the Nigerian National Team, but when her coach quit due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other personal complications, she decided to reassess the timing of another life goal.

Anumba will be an incoming student-athlete at the University of Virginia School of Law this fall, competing for UVA during her two final years of collegiate eligibility and looking forward to a hoped-for spot representing Nigeria at the Paris Olympics in 2024.

“Even though I’m a little nervous about how all this will go, I know it will benefit me,” she said of juggling law and track. ”In undergrad, I don’t know how successful I would have been if I didn’t have sports. Participating in athletics kept me focused and forced me to manage my time well.”

Because she is a dual citizen, the 22-year-old California native, born to immigrant parents, was given the opportunity to declare her national sports affiliation while attending the University of Pennsylvania. She chose Nigeria for several reasons. The nation, of course, connects her to her ancestry — including her late father, Cyril Anumba, who died when she was 10. But there was also a more practical reason.

Ashley Anumba throwing a discus
Anumba competes at the NCAA Track and Field Championships at the University of Oregon in Eugene. Courtesy photo

“In the U.S., for example, you can have 10 people good enough to make it to a national event, but only two have a slot,” Anumba said. “The field is saturated.”

In high school in California, Anumba started out as a soccer player. After she tore a knee ligament and sustained other injuries in play, she decided to change sports. She began throwing the discus, and her high school coach immediately recognized her abilities. She soon rose to best in state, and among the top throwers in the nation.

Her athleticism helped secure her a scholarship to an Ivy League school.

In 2019 at Penn, she was ranked No. 4 in the world for discus in the under-20 division and has been that university’s distance record-holder since 2018. It was as a sophomore that Anumba began participating with the Nigerian national team as well.

In addition, she found time to serve as executive director of Penn Student Agencies, a collection of student entrepreneurial efforts with an overall revenue of $800,000, as well as to publish an article in the Penn Bioethics Journal.

She graduated from Penn with a B.A. in health and societies. Part of her interest in the subject area arose from the poor outcomes some of her family members suffered in the medical system. Her father’s death was hastened, she said, by a doctor not making use of an ultrasound when performing a spinal tap, and accidentally perforating his intestine. Other family members had outcomes that, though not fatal, were less than ideal.

“Over the years, multiple family members underwent critical healthcare procedures and became victims of systemic disparities and inequities in healthcare laws and policies,” she wrote in her law school application.

Anumba chose UVA Law, in part, because of its renowned health law offerings. Among other courses, Anumba looks forward to taking Topics in Health Care Reform, taught by Professor Margaret Foster Riley, and the Health and Disability Law Clinic.

While she hasn’t narrowed down yet exactly what her career will look like after law school, the current World Athletics Athletes’ Commission member said she could see herself serving as an advocate for athletes’ health in some aspect.

“Sports is a heavy motivator for me,” she said, including the problem of “athletes being seen as bodies rather than human beings.”

Anumba will train at UVA with Coach Martin Maric, a two-time Olympian. The prospect of ultimately competing in the Olympics is thrilling to her, she said, but she knows that making a living from track is uncommon. In that respect, changes that went into effect July 1 from a U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing college athletes to receive brand deals and sponsorships probably won’t affect her in the way they will top basketball and football players, she said.

Her mom, Ethel, a vice principal at a sixth-12th grade academy, is just proud that her daughter is using athletics to advance her academic and career goals.

“I come from a family of educators who passed on the importance of education to my siblings and I,” the law student said.

As the youngest child, Anumba has been inspired by her three other siblings, in particular her oldest sister, Michelle, who was also an accomplished track athlete, at Duke University. Michelle went on to compete at the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2012 and is now the head physical therapist for the WNBA team the Las Vegas Aces.

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Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.