World Class

Jan. 7, 2014

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By Jennifer Clark

ORLANDO, Fla. ( -- Afia Charles has made a name for herself through her involvement on UCF's campus and in the Orlando community, and not just because of her excellence on the track.

With daily practices at 6:30 a.m. and a full course load, Charles could simply compete in track and participate in the classroom, but she has elected to take on more, living by the mantra "don't block your blessings."

"I think being an athlete comes with great responsibility," Charles said. "That's really what being an athlete has taught me. It has taught me time management, organization and how to take responsibility for your actions."

Charles credited her mother, Ruperta, an Antigua native, as the guiding force behind her drive and dedication. At the age of 17, Charles' mother came to the United States on a track scholarship from Howard University, while continuing to represent Antigua nationally.

It comes as no surprise, then, that the younger Charles would follow in her mother's footsteps.

In addition to her role as a UCF student-athlete, Charles serves as President of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, where she has strived to break down the wall between students and student-athletes and build a stronger relationship between the two groups.

She is also heavily involved with local children's charities both on and off campus, was named to UCF's Homecoming Court and represented Antigua at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London following her sophomore year.

Her mother competed in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles in the 100 and 200 meters and the 4x400 relay. Three decades later, Charles became the first current UCF student-athlete to participate in the Olympics when she ran the 400 meters.

Charles says that when she was younger, she did not think that her mother competing in the Olympics was a major accomplishment. As she grew older, she realized the importance of the Games, and "never imagined" that one day she would compete among the best athletes in the world.

Proud of her Olympic appearance, the senior is enjoying her time as a student-athlete at UCF, while focused on her future.

"I feel like being a student-athlete teaches you to network," she said. "It teaches you to talk to people. When you get out into the real world, all you have are your accomplishments and yourself. Your resume is not filled with all types of job experiences, so it allows you to network. It helps you not to fold under pressure. A lot of people have that pressure to find a job when they graduate, but I feel as an athlete we're put into stressful situations every day at practice, track meets and competition, so I feel like I know how to handle pressure pretty well. In the real world that's all there is."

Charles has chosen to study health sciences at UCF, and has taken a pre-clinical path with the hopes of creating a foundation for children from low-income households. Charles knows the importance of exercise and proper nutrition and hopes to continue educating local youth about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.

"I really love kids. I have a soft spot for kids. I've always told myself when I grow up I want six kids. I just love children, especially now that I have three nieces, but I feel sorry when I see all those children with no food, going hungry, and they can't help themselves," Charles said. "Not to say their parents are not taking care of them, but their parents just don't have the means. If I can step in and not be that other parent for them, but help their parents for them, I would love to do that."

Charles is currently completing an internship with Florida Hospital's Healthy 100 campaign, designed to increase awareness and teach preventive-health awareness to children. Charles helps promote the program to area families, even pushing back her graduation date to December so she is able to continue working with Florida Hospital.

"I feel like there is so much food in this world and all these celebrities getting millions and millions of dollars, but we still have kids going hungry," Charles said. "For what? It's really important for me, so that's what I want to do, help kids."

Looking ahead, Charles plans to pursue her master's degree, possibly remaining in Florida or returning to Maryland, with the hopes of completing an online program so she is able to continue promoting a healthy lifestyle to youngsters.

"There will always be someone trying to break you down," she said, "but if you know how to build yourself back up or you're mentally strong, then I feel like you can accomplish anything in life."



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