Asjah Atkinson has been on a track for about as long as she could run. Hailing from a multi-generational track family, Atkinson got her start at the tender age of four, and she’s been on the go ever since.
The standout senior at St. Anthony High School saw her lifelong commitment reach an important milestone recently as she made her college commitment to Cal, where she will continue her track and field career with the Golden Bears.
“It was exciting, but overall it was a big relief,” admitted Atkinson of making her college decision official. “I feel like my whole life I’ve been leading up to being a collegiate athlete so I could further my career, so it was a big relief off my shoulders that I didn’t have to worry about it anymore.”
Atkinson reached the CIF State meet as a sophomore in both the 100m hurdles and the long jump, earning a medal in both events. She was on pace to drastically improve her marks this spring before the pandemic cut her season short, but she’s already showcased the natural talent that runs through both sides of her family tree. Her grandfather, George Sinclair, was a hurdler in his day, and both of Asjah’s parents, Roderick and Denise Atkinson, were high school track stars as well. Roderick was both a football player and a pole vaulter, and Denise was a record-holder at Morningside High School in the long jump and triple jump.
Growing up, Asjah’s siblings also led by example in the sport. Her brother, Roderick, Jr., was a jumper at Serra High School and earned a scholarship to Grambling State. Asjah’s sister, Ericka Brooks, ran track at Carson High and is now the head coach at St. Anthony, where she has helped guide her younger sister to a Pac-12 scholarship.
“I was really excited. It was a ‘finally’ kind of moment because this is what she’s been working for,” said Brooks of Asjah’s commitment to Cal. “At first we didn’t see this in her future, but shortly thereafter we figured out that track would be something that would take her a long way. I’m just excited she can go to the next level doing something she really enjoys.”
As Brooks recalls, during one of her sister’s first races, Asjah spent more time waving to her family in the stands than actually running her race.
“She was just happy to be on the track,” Brooks recalled with a laugh. “I remember thinking, ‘This is going to be something she likes, but I don’t know if we’re really going to pursue this. But maybe she’s a field eventer.’”
As it turns out, she was both. A few years later, when Atkinson was eight years old, everything seemed to click during a Junior Olympics-style meet. A young Atkinson jumped 12 feet in the long jump before putting on an impressive display in the 4×100 relay, causing her family to step back and reassess her abilities.
“It was that day that I realized we’re going to do something here. I think she’s going to be the one,” Brooks recalled.
Once the talent and athleticism was there, the next piece of the puzzle was Atkinson’s competitive drive. Her ability to maintain a relaxed, care-free demeanor off the track, but lock in and become a fierce competitor at race time has been key to her success.
“When I switch into competition mode, in my head, everything is riding on this,” Atkinson explained. “I have to perform, I have to do the best and win, or in my head nothing else is going to go right. And usually I get into competition mode when I hit the track. Not when I’m warming up or in the staging area, I’m always kind of aloof and not really thinking about anything. But then I get on the track and I don’t even hear anybody around me. It’s like in movies when you only hear your heartbeat, that’s the only thing that’s going. And I look at the girls next to me and think ‘Oh, I’m going to beat you. There’s no way you’re going to beat me.’”
As her coach and older sister, no one sees that competitive side more than Brooks, who lauded Atkinson’s ability to stay humble while maintaining that fiery spirit.
“She’s really competitive. I don’t think people really understand, but as her coach and sister, she really hates losing,” said Brooks. “Off the track she’s very humble, she doesn’t talk about herself or her races. But when you see her on the track she goes into beast mode and becomes this totally different person, and she has the ability to turn it on and off. She knows how to be humble but at the same time she’s worked hard and is going to let that show on the track.”
Atkinson has also worked hard in the classroom, where she is a 4.0 student, and academics was a major factor in her college decision. After speaking to multiple Ivy League schools, including Princeton, Dartmouth, and Penn, Atkinson was drawn to the idea of attending UC Berkeley, which is routinely rated among the top public universities in the nation.
Atkinson’s life on the track started early, and the thought of carrying on the family tradition has been a motivating force in her career. With her unique combination of talent and competitive drive, she’s not just looking to continue that legacy, she’s looking to reach new heights.
“It means a lot to me. I would have never started track if no one else in my family had done it,” said Atkinson. “Me doing it made me more part of the family, because we all have that one thing in common. Seeing where I am now and how I’ve progressed, especially with the help of my sister, it’s a great feeling. I like to not only make myself happy when I win, but to make them happy as well.”