One man's journey runs from Kenya to Fort Hays State University
10/03/2007

The dream of coming to America to study is a reality for Edwin Kiptoo, Eldoret, Kenya.

The grassy plains of Kansas will be a little bit of a change in scenery for Kiptoo whom is accustomed to Africa's safari-like sights of cheetahs, lions and elephants. When Kiptoo arrived at 8 p.m. on Aug. 18, he instantly realized the heat and wind of Kansas in comparison to the mild temperature of Kenya. He was surprised that there was still sunlight because, in Kenya, the sun sets around 6 p.m.

Kiptoo said, "I'm adjusting to the weather and everything here, but I have never seen snow and I'm looking forward to that."

Adjusting to a different life is one sacrifice that Kiptoo would gladly change to have the opportunity to study at FHSU. Kiptoo had been thinking of coming to America to further his education for some time, but he got serious about it after graduating from the 12th-grade. While taking a year off from school, Kiptoo taught a high school chemistry class and began searching the Web for colleges.

"I immediately liked FHSU and my first impression, which is often a lasting one, stayed with me. I think that the system of education here appealed to me the most," said Kiptoo. "I then began the application process and contacted the cross country coach to see about running."

Since Kiptoo was involved in athletics in his high school and grew up in a culture of running, he contacted cross country coach Jason McCullough to see about a scholarship.

"Running is a way of life over there," said McCullough. "He has been a great addition to the team and is the first Kenyan runner we've had. Many things we take for granted, he sees as a luxury, and this experience has been great for our team."

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"We're excited to have him on our team since he is from a foreign country and especially since Kenya is known for their runners," said Aaron Davidson, Salina senior and teammate. "Since Kenya is tops when it comes to running, I have a Kenyan flag hanging in my room and when Edwin saw it, I think it brought a smile to his face and showed him that we know and respect where he has come from. We definitely have a lot to learn from him."

"In Kenya," said Kiptoo, "it is like we are born to run. My tribe loves to run, as do all the other tribes. I grew up watching famous runners like Kipchoge Keino who is a hero to me that came from my tribe. I discovered that I had a talent for running in about the sixth grade, and I hope to be as good as some of Kenya's famous runners someday."

"When you grow up watching people like that, it makes you want to run and continue the tradition," said Kiptoo. "That is why running is such a big custom in Kenya and how we continue to have such successful runners." Kiptoo said that the best runners in the area are selected to attend a school called St. Patrick's High School, where many world-class runners are trained.

He comes from one of eight tribes in Kenya called Kalenjin (pronounced KAH-len-jeen). His sub-tribe is called Keiyo (pronounce Ke-yo) and he speaks both official languages, English and Swahili.

While homegrown FHSU students might scarf down a bowl of Fruit Loops or a plate of sausage and eggs before class, Kiptoo enjoys a cup of tea accompanied by bread for breakfast.

"Americans eat in the morning like they do at lunch. I think that food is more oily here but the dorm cafeteria serves rice and I like to eat lots of rice," he said.

His tribe eats a food called ugali, a cake-like starchy food that is made from white cornmeal and chapatti, an Indian bread made from flour, water and salt. A popular drink is mursik, which is fermented whole milk.

Kiptoo said he has two brothers and three sisters in Kenya, but his family is very happy for him to go to college in America. His whole community is joyful for him and he feels honored to have the opportunity to come to FHSU.

"They wanted me to go." Kiptoo said. "It was best for me to come here in terms of education, and I'm very excited to be here and have the opportunity to run also. My experience has been good so far, and the hospitality from my coach to my teammates -- everybody -- has been great! My family is probably missing me and they want me to e-mail photos and show them what I have been doing. I will hopefully send them a video too."

Kiptoo is majoring in mathematics. He plans on getting a master's in actuarial science and pursuing a Ph.D. He hopes to have a career in finance or insurance, whether it is in the United States or in Kenya.


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