It is no secret that, as a well-documented commuter campus with nearly 40,000 students and just over 1,400 faculty members, Cal State Fullerton has long been cultivating an environment where students meander through overcrowded walkways and spend a majority of their collegiate careers quietly tucked away as nameless faces in the backs of classrooms, slowly slipping through the cracks.
With the grim outlook surrounding the highly-populated and arguably under-engaged student body at CSUF, one of the ways which Fullerton has attempted to remedy the issue of a largely unconnected student body is by propagandizing the idea of Titan pride through highlighting their best and brightest on campus.
However, for Imeh Nsek, the CSUF cycling club member and treasurer, a void in Titan pride and a feeling of invisibility as an influential cyclist at CSUF have persisted for him, despite being crowned a national champion on the cycling stage after placing first in the Collegiate Criterium National Championships in 2018.
For CSUF and a number of other college campuses, the foremost of these pride-instilling practices involves the emphasis of school sports, their most successful programs and their most highly touted individual athletes.
When asked if anyone on campus had congratulated Nsek on his accomplishments on the national collegiate stage, he said no one had approached him.
“I see the kids from the cycling club around, sometimes and they’d be like, ‘Oh, this is the guy,’ and whoever I was walking with, they’d have to be like, ‘Bro, you know who this guy is,’ but it was only like three people,” Nsek said.
Yet, for the champion, the lack of affection from a distant student body came as no surprise.
“It’s something that I knew and kind of expected by not playing a mainstream sport like basketball, baseball or football,” Nsek said.
The 20-year-old economics major also gave credence to the fact that belonging to a commuter campus likely contributed to his sprint-to-win national victory falling on deaf Titan ears.
Deprived of the campus recognition deserving of an athlete representing their university on a national stage, Nsek’s major summer finish did not go unnoticed by the local cycling community who Nsek and his brother, Ama, have been involved with for a number of years.
Nsek recalled messages of encouragement and congratulations fresh off of his summer victory, both in person and through social media, and individuals like former Titan Cycling teammate John Janneck were no exception to the heaps of praise that went towards Nsek’s way.
“I think it’s incredibly motivational. Seeing him win nationals is a huge step for cycling,” Janneck said.
Janneck was quick to emphasize how Nsek is not only hardworking and talented on his bike, but explained how Nsek’s pursuit as a scholar and a cyclist personally inspired him.
“It’s pretty cool to see a local guy just like me going to the same school and everything. If he can do it, I can do it,” Janneck said.
Like many other student athletes, Nsek’s life off the saddle has been somewhat of a balancing act, especially for a young professional making the final foray into their collegiate career.
— Aevolo Cycling (@Aevolo_Cycling) June 20, 2018
At a point in life where two and a half to three hours can mean the difference between passing or failing an exam for a college student, Nsek has made it a priority to invest a roughly three-hour block of time each day into training.
On top of dedicating time to studying for classes, working on expanding a coaching business with his younger brother, becoming a licensed real estate agent and making time to spend amongst family and friends, he still finds time to take salsa classes with his girlfriend.
From learning to love cycling on a mountain bike as a young teenager, to getting “smoked” in cycling races as a youngster, Nsek has come a long way from where he started.
For any other national champion, a story like this might hinge on the heroics of individual skill or the triumph of human will, but for Nsek’s journey, the overwhelming silence of tens of thousands was ear-shattering.
“It probably would have been super nice and super cool to be noticed,” Nsek said, recalling his victory as he sighed.
For this national champion, however, the lack of recognition didn’t seem to bother him; it was enough to be recognized by those around him who understood the significance of his accomplishment.