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March 29, 2017


Former South Carolina track and field All-American Lisa Misipeka won several Southeastern Conference titles in throw events, was a two-time NCAA Champion, and she competed in three Olympic games. When her career as an athlete ended, she was at peace with it and seamlessly moved on to the next phase of her life as a coach as well as a wife and mother.

“I was very much fulfilled,” Misipeka said. “Coming out of college in 1998, I was extremely fulfilled as a collegiate athlete. I knew that I had more in me, but I needed to make money. I’ve always been an educator. So it was a natural progression. South Carolina helped me become who I am.”

A devastating knee injury in 2004 was also a reminder of how quickly her days of competing can disappear.

“After I blew my knee out, I knew it was time to get into educating and coaching others,” Misipeka said. “I’ve told myself not to cherish anything because once you cherish something, you’re not willing to let it go. Instead, be purposeful every day in every pursuit. When that time is over, it’s over. Then you take your purpose, your drive and your passion, and you apply it to something else. Those memories, I’ll always have. I’m just creating new ones now, differently.”

Misipeka is currently an assistant coach and the director of operations for the track and field program at the University of Connecticut. Prior to that, she coached at Fresno State, Northern Arizona and West Los Angeles College.

They tried to teach us to be good young women to prepare us to be a strong woman in the world, and to use our academics to advance ourselves.

Lisa Misipeka

Misipeka won the NCAA title in the hammer throw and 20-pound weight throw in 1998. She was also the SEC Outdoor Hammer Throw Champion in 1997 and 1998, as well as the SEC Indoor Weight Throw Champion in 1998. Overall, she earned All-America honors 11 times in her collegiate career, but there is more to her than achievements in individual sports disciplines.

“I had a lot of amazing moments,” Misipeka said. “One of the things that really stuck out for me was when I won the South Carolina Woman of the Year award (in 1999) because I know I was not up against just athletes. I was up against doctors, lawyers, writers and all sorts of women who made an impact in their profession. That was very special to me.

“My Academic All-American awards were very important to me, too. My hard work was able to get me to the top. Of course the NCAA titles were very important, but it was the team titles that meant a lot because we needed every single point from every single team member. It’s all very special.”

Originally from Torrance, Calif., Misipeka came to South Carolina after a tremendous high school career in track and field and basketball.

“I decided in high school that I wanted to go to the Olympic Games,” Misipeka said. “In order to that I had to pick a sport where my hard work and my coach would be the factors in helping me do that. (Former South Carolina coach) Larry Judge came to my house from South Carolina, and he shared a great vision. He told me that we were going to build a team. He already had Dawn Ellerbe, and he said he needed me and my teammate, Crystal Brownlee, to come on board and do our thing. South Carolina had one of the best physical education programs in the country as well. Academics were very important to me at that time, too. So with that and one of the best throws coaches in the country, that was something I wanted to be a part of.”


The Gamecocks lived up to their reputations and helped create a formidable team.

“We were confident,” Misipeka said. “When girls saw us walk in with all of our black on, they would say ‘Awe shoot, here comes South Carolina.’ With our team, it was like competing at NCAAs at every practice. That was a very unique environment.”

Misipeka also thrived in international competition. She earned a bronze medal in the hammer throw at the 1999 World Championships and competed for American Samoa in the 1996, 2000, and 2004 Olympics.

“My father was born and raised in Samoa,” Misipeka said. “I was ranked third in the world. I spent most of my years of living and training in the U.S. I spoke to my father about it, and he told me that the U.S. route would be a more lucrative route and more stable, but going the American Samoan route would be more prideful because no one has ever done it. Back then, we (American Samoa) weren’t known for track and field. So it was a no-brainer for me.”

Looking back, Misipeka appreciates what her coaches did for her to prepare her for life after college, on and off the track.

“Coach Curtis Frye, (assistant) coach D (Delethea Quarles), and all the coaches, they had this next level expectations for their student-athletes,” Misipeka said. “They didn’t just preach winning. Coach Frye also preached about the person, and to be a great person or great leader or great teammate. They tried to teach us to be good young women to prepare us to be a strong woman in the world, and to use our academics to advance ourselves.”

As a coach, Misipeka enjoys terrific memories that outnumber her long list of accolades.

“With athletics, I’ve travelled the world,” Misipeka said. “The things you remember most are the relationships because records will be broken, and I’ve got titles or records in stadiums that my student-athletes tell me about. I tell them I want them to beat it.”

Now 42 years old, Misipeka and her husband, Bryant Allen, are the proud parents of a ten year old son, Bryson, and five year old daughter, Rhyan. Although she has worked at other schools, Misipeka said she is always a Gamecock.

“I’m still garnet and black,” Misipeka said. “We bleed garnet and black in this family.”