Michelle Ikoma didn’t come to Carolina with a great sense of what she wanted to become, and certainly not with an idea of how to get there. But being a Tar Heel student-athlete certainly gave her the opportunity to find that calling and her path.
“I took a little bit of a circuitous path (with) the 10 or 12 different majors that I stepped through while I was here,” says Ikoma. “When I started college, I really thought about my life being some kind of race, that I needed to get to the finish line first and that the only way to be successful was to go as fast as I could. In many ways, Carolina forced me to slow down, and forced me to take the more scenic route. I started to really appreciate the value in slowing down … and being able to learn as much as you can from whatever opportunity you’re given, even if it wasn’t the opportunity that you thought you’d have.”
Ikoma took that opportunity to not only excel as a gymnast at Carolina, but to find her path in medicine.
“I chose to come back (to Carolina) to earn my medical degree, and I think a big part of that was just falling in love with the university and falling in love with everything that it had to offer,” she says. “I think a big part of that for me was coming on campus and really being embraced by both my teammates and my coaches, and feeling like this was a place that would support me unconditionally … and in doing that, (they) really just empowered me with a sense of confidence that I had never had prior to coming to Carolina.”
Ikoma’s journey began with an opportunity to compete as a Tar Heel. And that path continues to be influenced today as an alumna of Carolina.
“I think this experience gives people, maybe like me who don’t have that sense of confidence and don’t feel like they belong … they kind of slowly are able to realize that they were given this opportunity for a reason and that they really do belong. And when you make that realization, I think you start to realize that you really can do anything that you want when you leave Carolina.”
We are FORevHER Tar Heels tell the stories of some of those pillars of Carolina Athletics and the community that supports women’s programs through this groundbreaking initiative.