The 9,545 Mile Long Dream
By Emi Komiya
University of Arizona cross country runner Elvin Kibet is on the rise.
For Kibet, life is all about having the right attitude. She got on a plane in 2010 that took her on a journey from her home country, Kenya, to Wildcat nation in Tucson, Ariz. On that plane was a heart of aspiration, a positive attitude, and legs built to run for miles.
As a freshman in 2010, Kibet was the only member of the female cross country team that wasn't an American native. She had to adjust not only to life in the United States, but also to the rigorous life style of a college athlete.
"It was humbling to help her adjust to life here. It's easy to take it for granted and complain as an athlete at times, but she is just grateful and happy to be here. It's truly inspiring," said teammate and close friend Megan Meyer.
In Kenya, running was simply a necessity for Kibet. Growing up, she would run anywhere up to 20 kilometers a day just so she could get to and from school. One of 10 children in her family, she quickly developed a sense of responsibility and leadership.
"I first saw Elvin run back in December 2009. She had very little formal training at the time but I liked what I saw. There was this deep desire and drive in her eyes, not to mention great running mechanics," said James Li, Arizona's head cross country coach and associate head track and field coach.
Li has been recruiting out of Kenya for 17 years and is well known there as a trustworthy and talented coach who genuinely looks out for the best interest of his athletes. Elvin was exceptional during Li's 2009 trip.
Rigorous school curriculum, family responsibilities, and limited opportunities to pursue running were but a few of Kibet's challenges on the road to Arizona.
" I want to be the best in the world so that someday I may give a voice to the injustices in society. That is why I run. To help those that do not have voice.
"I grew up in a village where I had to take care of my siblings and work hard in school," said Kibet. Her two older sisters Sylvia and Hilda are world class runners and Olympic competitors. Needless to say, the Kibet family has generated somewhat of a family tradition. However, running reaches a much deeper meaning for Kibet.
Growing up in Kenya, Kibet developed a love for the children in her community and was inspired to become a lawyer.
"I wanted to address all the injustices that I saw taking place in Kenya and all over the world," she said, "My education became a key component to this dream."
But Kibet has not returned to Kenya since beginning her athletic career at the University of Arizona. Yet.
"When I feel my education is fulfilled and my body is ready to compete at a professional level, I will return to Kenya," said Kibet.
Li presented Kibet with the chance to train in top-notch facilities, receive an education and compete against the best.
"I owe it to everyone who took a chance on me to do amazing things with my God-given talent," said Kibet.
Since becoming a Wildcat, Kibet's dreams have become more real than ever.
"Elvin is remarkable. She has excelled not only on the track but academically as well. There have been long talks with some tears and many smiles. I am proud to function as a source of encouragement and support," said Li.
Overcoming the difficulty of the culture shock and the absence of her family has been a challenge. However, her teammates and coaches have provided the right environment for Kibet to thrive.
"I don't just want to be the best in the [NCAA], I want to be the best in the world so that someday I may give a voice to the injustices in society. That is why I run. To help those that do not have voice," said Kibet.
Last year, Kibet was named Arizona Athletics Freshman Student of the Year for her academic success and she also made the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) All-Academic Team.
"Elvin is so intelligent; she has this thirst for life. Her simplicity and incredible attitude is very refreshing," said Meyer.
A 9,545-mile plane ride and almost two years later, Kibet has just finished a strict summer of training consisting of two-a-days leading up to 70 miles a week in altitudes of 7,000 feet. She will make her first appearance in 2011 at the Dave Murray Cross Country Invitational in Tucson, Ariz., on Friday, Sept. 16 with the 5K as her specialty.
"I am lucky to have the opportunity to compete and showcase what I can do. I love running, everything else is just a challenge to overcome," said Kibet.
A prevalent theme in all who interact with Elvin is that whatever she sets her mind to she will surely achieve. Now that these dreams are reachable, Elvin is equipped with the right attitude to cut times and break records.
"You have to run because you love it. There has to be a lot of passion," she said. "You have to run with your heart."