With a nickname like Speedy you’d better be fast. And that’s exactly what St, John’s track and field star Phobay Kutu-Akoi is.The senior captain has been sprinting at record pace, and the outside world has been taking notice.
Last week, she was named the Big East Female Track Athlete of the Week, posting her second-best-ever 60-meter dash time of 7.58 seconds in the finals of the Penn State Open. The week before she recorded her career best time of 7.52 seconds in the 60-meter at the Yale Intercollegiate.
“It means so much, I didn’t really expect it,” Kutu-Akoi said of the award. “I’m really excited, I’m just grateful.”
This is the first year the Big East has given out the award and Kutu-Akoi is the first St. John’s track star to have achieved the honor.
“We have had great athletes in the past,” said Kutu-Akoi. “They were all Big East Champions and coach [Harrison] told me that they never got a weekly honor and that made me feel really good, I’m proud of myself that I was the first one to get it.”
With a self-described passion for running, the Liberian-born sprinter moved to the United States when she was 12 and has been moving at a fast pace ever since.
She was dubbed Speedy in high school and thanks to a teammate at St. John’s, that name has stuck with her.
“I came here freshman year and [senior sprinter/jumper] Venisa Clarke-Lee, asked me what [my nickname] was and I told her, and then coach [Harrison] started calling me that,” Kutu-Akoi said. Kutu-Akoi has had to put in a lot of hard work on her own in the offseason, but has been able to rely on the mentoring of a former high school coach as well as former professional hurdler Yvonne Harrison, her current sprinting coach.
In her third season as sprinting coach, Harrison has seen Kutu-Akoi grow and she believes that the sky is the limit for her senior captain.
“Phobay has a tenacious attitude,” Harrison said. “She is a quick learner, she adjusts and adapts immediately. She doesn’t stop herself either.”
Off to a successful start to the winter season, Kutu-Akoi has been achieving personal bests on the track. Her work ethic and “tenacious” attitude has caused her to dream big.
Although, she knows as the good results continue to come in, more will be expected from her.
“That’s the scary part,” Kutu-Akoi said. “Two weeks in a row I stepped onto the track and I ran faster than I’ve ever ran, so now it’s like I have to do it. I’m trying to just take control and relax.”
Kutu-Akoi has found that the less she thinks about it, the faster runs.
“It happened when I really wasn’t thinking about it,” she said.
“I wasn’t going on the track saying I want to beat everyone, I just want to run fast, execute right and run with proper technique and when I focused on that, the times came.”
The times have been coming so far this season for Kutu-Akoi, who will be running as a member of the Red Storm for the last time this May.
Having already qualified for the Big East Championships and ECAC Championships in her career, Kutu-Akoi has made it a personal goal of hers to become a Big East Champion this year as well as qualify for the national tournament.
“I want to graduate as a Big East Champion,” Kutu-Akoi said.
“I also want to go to Nationals. I don’t want to leave the season saying, I wish I could have done this. I don’t want to have any regrets.”
“As I see it, she’s top three in the Big East right now,” said Harrison. “All she has to do is step on the line believing her preparation is solid, which it is, and she can get it.”
With Nationals and the Big East Championship a couple of months away, “Speedy” is hoping her fast start to the winter season can propel her into a position she’s never been in before.