Nine months ago, Aziza Chigatayeva was a freshman at the very start of her college career. She was brand new to Binghamton University and brand new to the track and field and cross country teams, although she had some high school running experience with a few accolades. Now, Chigatayeva has completed several top finishes for the women’s cross country team and owns a program record in track and field, earning her Pipe Dream’s Female Athlete of the Year award.
Chigatayeva isn’t completely new to track and field success, as she won the 2018 New York State Federation 2,000 steeplechase title and placed fourth at the 2018 New Balance National Meet in the same event in high school. Still, not many people expected her to achieve this level of success so early in her collegiate career, least of all her.
“I knew I had the potential, but whether or not I would do [track and field] was up in the air,” Chigatayeva said. “I definitely worked on a lot of fixing and toning, the things I didn’t do in high school.”
It certainly isn’t up in the air anymore. Chigatayeva competed in all five cross country meets this season back in the fall. In the women’s Brown Race at Lehigh University, Chigatayeva was the top Bearcat finisher, placing in 31st out of 362 runners. At the very next meet in Princeton, New Jersey, Chigatayeva improved on her standing, this time coming in 26th place in the 6K run. Her best performance of the cross country season came at the America East Championships, where she claimed third place in the 5K run, tying the highest-ever finish by a Bearcat at the AE Championships at that event (Katie Razdik, 2005). These performances earned her the 2018 AE Most Outstanding Women’s Rookie.
It was during the women’s track and field season, however, that Chigatayeva began to shine in earnest. All of her major accomplishments in the track and field season of spring 2019 stemmed from a single event: the 3,000 steeplechase. Chigatayeva won that event at three separate meets this season, breaking the BU program record twice along the way.
Chigatayeva first smashed the record by a whopping 22 seconds at the Colonial Relays in April, then broke her own record five weeks later at the ECAC/IC4A meet (10:22.76), with an AE Championships win in the event sandwiched in between. She was named the Most Outstanding Women’s Rookie in the AE for track and field, winning that award for the second sport this year.
Many athletes who find success at their sport, both at the collegiate and the professional level, have been practicing their chosen sport since their early childhood days, but Chigatayeva only began her distance running career in high school at the suggestion of a friend.
“In high school, one of my friends was on the team, and I needed something to do basically,” Chigatayeva said. “I joined late into the season, and I ended up really liking it. It’s crazy that it only happened four years ago, when I had no idea what I was getting into. It’s nice to look back, and I’m so glad that I joined.”
Chigatayeva has been on a roll ever since, and she has no plans of slowing down in the three years she has left at BU. Though her season can definitely be described as a personal triumph, Chigatayeva still has lofty goals she wishes to achieve in the coming seasons, both for herself and the program.
“The ultimate goal is to compete at the national level, which is extremely hard to do,” Chigatayeva said. “If I could get there that would be great, and putting our program on the map would be great, because it shows that little schools can produce great runners.”