Irie Gourde '17 is more than up to speed
Irie Gourde '17 walked on to the track and field team in the fall and is delivering impressive results.
Brandeis Judges runner Irie Gourde '17 has always been athletic and quick, but even he admits his meteoric rise on the track is unconventional.
Gourde is in contention to qualify for the NCAA Track and Field Championships this spring, and just boosted his chances with a pair of second place finishes in the 400m and 200m events at the University Athletic Association Championship (UAAs), which was held at Brandeis on Feb. 25 and 26. Brandeis took sixth overall at UAAs and hosted the tournament for the first time since 2014.
The unconventional part of Gourde’s story is that he walked on the team—just four months ago, in the fall of his senior year.
“It is a unique story,” said Gourde. “It’s not common to have a senior walk on, let alone one who walks on and does pretty well.”
Remarkably, Gourde was almost left off the team due to its already-packed roster.
“My now-teammate Nick [Wactor '17] encouraged me to try out,” Gourde said. “Going in I was told there wasn’t a ton of space on the team, but I trained to see if I could even handle a varsity schedule.” Gourde was supposed to complete a time trial to see if he could compete, but was forced to cancel it when he got sick. However, he had shown enough promise that coaches waived the trial and told him to just stick with his training schedule.
“I kept my head down, kept going to practice and did whatever I could to be part of the team,” Gourde added. “I struggled to keep up for the first weeks, but eventually I built up strength and stamina and got comfortable. In a few weeks’ time, I started really thriving.”
Gourde finished first in a heat in his very first competition. That result, paired with his work ethic and determination to help the team, confirmed that he’d be a permanent fixture on the roster.
Though success has come to Gourde quickly, his natural athleticism certainly gives him an advantage. He was born in Portland, Oregon, but moved around the world with his mother, who is a diplomat for the U.S. State Department. He grew up playing soccer in Burkina Faso, and then, as a student in Canada, joined his high school track team.
“Athletics, in general, was always a key part of my life,” Gourde said. “I was a right winger in soccer and there’s a lot of running in that position, so my athletic ability really came to fruition.”
Gourde never intended to run at Brandeis. He gravitated toward the school because of its economics and business academic programs, as well as the campus’ openness and welcoming environment. He credits the track and field team especially for how they’ve welcomed him in recent months.
Gourde graduates in May and wants to follow in his mother’s footsteps by pursuing a career with the State Department. He was also planning on joining the Peace Corps after commencement.
But running at Brandeis might have delayed those plans slightly. He is now looking into enrolling in graduate school at Brandeis, which will enable him to continue competing for the track team for at least one more year.
“NCAA rules say that you have four years of competitive eligibility within a five-year span,” Gourde said. “This certainly wasn’t expected, but I’m having a lot of fun. I’ve discovered a new love for running and my team really is a family.”