In the 2008 book Outliers, British-Canadian journalist Malcolm Gladwell tried to explain success by offering the “10,000-Hour Rule”, which states that it takes 10,000 hours of practice in a field to become an expert.
This can be readily observed in sports – particularly the Olympic sports – where athletes train for hours on end from a very early age. Successful swimmers and ice hockey players often begin training as soon as they acquire the motor functions necessary to do so.
If the 10,000-Hour Rule is true, then how can one explain the success of Irene Kujore, a senior on the women’s track and field team, who stumbled into the sport on a suggestion from a high school coach?
Kujore grew up in Hayward, Calif., where she succeeded in basketball from an early age. Her on-court exploits led to a fortuitous meeting with the track and field coach at Arroyo High School, who saw a dormant track and field star within Kujore waiting to be unleashed.
“In high school, I played basketball because that was my dominant sport,” Kujore recalled. “But then the track and field coach saw me and said ‘Oh, you’re a big girl, you look like you’re strong, maybe some of these events are right up your alley.”
“I said ‘okay,’ decided to try out for the team, and I made it,” Kujore continued.
It turns out her coach’s prediction couldn’t have been more prescient.
“At my first practice, I broke a school record,” Kujore said. “After that, my coach said ‘this is the sport for you.’ Since then, track and field has been my sport and I love it.”
Many athletes and fans enjoy sport and athletics because of its competitive nature or the physical benefits, but Kujore sees another perk.
“There’s just something about track and field that pushes you,” she said. “Even though it’s a team sport, you have to perform individually as well, so every day I have to push myself beyond what I think I can do.”
Kujore admits to a dearth of self-confidence at times, but refuses to use that as an excuse. She also gives credit to Pete Dolan, Cody Fleming and the rest of the track and field coaching staff for pushing all the right buttons.
“My coaches have definitely helped me out because I don’t have the greatest self-esteem at times,” she said. “Just that little push helps and takes me a long way.”
For Kujore, the mental clarity that comes from throwing has allowed her to mature as a person, student, and athlete.
“Before track and field, I wasn’t that mentally strong and I struggled with myself,” she lamented. “Once I started track and field, my focus became within myself, and I started pushing myself and started seeing what I could do.”
Throwing a school record 171' 6" in the discus in the Brian Clay Invitational in 2010, throwing a 49' 8.25" in the shot put at the 2010 Big West Championship – ranking third in school history – and qualifying for the 2012 NCAA Championships in discus throw and shot put is just a small sample of what Kujore can do.
Despite the success that she has already accrued, Kujore has her sights set even higher for her senior year.
“The way things are going this year, hopefully I can make it to the NCAA’s and maybe even the Olympics,” she said.
Thus far at UCSB, Kujore has shown that determination and introspection trump experience. As she trains more and more, the Olympics become an increasingly plausible dream.
For Kujore, one thing is certain: nothing, including the 10,000 Hour Rule, will stand in her way.