Ariana Ince will represent Rice Athletics and the State of Texas in the Tokyo Olympic Games, the culmination of many years of preparation.
A decade removed from her time as an undergraduate student at Rice University, the former Rice Athletics star Ariana Ince hasn’t forgotten her roots. Even though she’s since moved out west to California and works full time in the Golden State, she’s still very much connected to her time in Houston and her journey that began there so many years ago.
Now 32, Ince spends her days in the ergonomics industry. But that’s where the similarities between her and many of her classmates stop. Ince isn’t like every other young business professional. While others juggle commutes and deadlines, Ince has added another, much more expeditious projectile: the javelin. And she’s taken that passion as far as it can go, earning a spot to represent the United States in the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Her journey began at Rice in 2010 where she won Conference USA Championships in the pole vault. Then one day, during a workout at Herman Park, her focus began to shift. She’d stumbled upon a collection of apples near the bottom of a hill near the auditorium. In a bid to get out of the remainder of the workout, Ince made a bet with her coach that she could hit a chain fence at the top of the hill.
“I don’t remember how far away it was,” Ince recalled, “but it was car enough that [coach] thought I couldn’t do it.”
Ince grabbed an apple and let it fly. It sailed through the air, not only hitting the fence but going straight through it and exploding into a million pieces. And so the switch to javelin began. In the years that followed, she’s continued to hone her craft, spending time as a volunteer coach at Texas A&M and later training at the Olympic Training Center in California.
“Zoom doesn’t have a smell function,” she jokes as she relays the daily rigors of training in conjunction with the more normative challenges of the 9-to-5 life. Whether it’s dashing back and forth from the track to meetings without time to shower or the contrast of teaching others proper posture while contorting her own body to hurl a spear after hours, Ince has remained focused in the midst of it all.
Ince qualified for the Olympics based on her World Rankings score after placing fourth at the US Olympic Trials in late June. That comes months after the Games were delayed by COVID-19 and Ince, like many others, saw their professional athletic aspirations put on pause.
During the limbo, she continued working, spending time with a teammate in Colorado to train before returning to California. Months later, with a spot in the Games secure and a ticket punched to Tokyo, she can hardly process the magnitude. “I think probably I’ll feel a little bit incredulous,” she said, “that like, I actually did it.”
When she steps onto the field in Tokyo later this month, she’ll join Funmi Jimoh as the only two female Rice athletes to represent the United States at the Olympics. Ince says she knows Jimoh and the two have already joked about having meetings as the lone members of the exclusive club. The magnitude of that realization continues to loom large.
That connection, to Jimoh, to Rice and to her hometown of Gonzalez, Texas are things she’ll proudly bring with her on the journey. “Those ‘Come and Take It’ Flags,” she said with a grin, “We’re very proud of that.”
When the Olympic fanfare comes to an end, Ince has no plans to slow down. She’s already charted out a course of international competitions that span the next five years beyond Tokyo. The javelin is still very much in her future, just like it’s been a part of the present. And all the while, she’ll be helping others with their posture when the time comes to her “day job”.
“It makes me feel really balanced,” Ince says of her simultaneous pursuits of athletic and professional life, “I don’t have that same concern like ‘What do I do after sport?’ My whole thought process is life after sport is going to be so easy. All I have to do is go to work? Please, that’s going to be too easy.”
An observer of our zoom call to this point, current Rice Track and Field coach Jim Bevan chimes in with a brief, but a fitting review. “It’s such a treasure to listen to a Rice athlete being interviewed because they bring more to the page than just athletics,” he said. “I think it speaks well to Rice because we do truly feel we’re the home of the true student-athlete.”
At the risk of mixing metaphors, in so many ways, Ince has knocked both facets of her life out of the park. She admits she’ll probably have to find a new hobby when it does come time to hang up the cleats. But for now, she’s enjoying the ride. Now it’s onto Tokyo, and hopefully, a spot in the Finals.
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