Growing up in a rural, Kenyan farming village six hours north of the capital Nairobi, Josephat Kipruto Koima figured an education would give him a better life. Koima, the middle of seven children, focused on his studies and excelled in math and science. He dreamed of becoming a pilot, not of the running careers that have given fellow Kenyans riches and international celebrity. But aviation is not offered in Kenyan universities and the cost of acquiring a pilot’s license is prohibitive.
“For practical reasons, I just let it go,” said Koima. Then, he heard about the Kenya Scholar-Athlete Project (KenSAP) and thought “what if?”
At age 18, Koima had never run a day in his life, at least not anything more than running after the cows or sheep that strayed into neighbors’ farms, or chasing after a tiny soccer ball in boyhood pickup games, or barreling down the rutted 1½-mile dirt path when late for school after milking the cows and taking care of his younger siblings. Yet Koima realized he could improve his chances at being accepted to KenSAP if he excelled at the 1,500-meter tryout that is part of the program’s admissions process. If he earned a place with KenSAP, Koima knew he would likely win a free ride to an elite American college.
“I decided to do a 20-minute run daily for about two weeks prior to the interview day,” said Koima. “It wasn’t easy but this was an opportunity of a lifetime and I knew I literally had to ‘run for my life.’ ”
The first time Koima ran competitively, on a dirt track at 7,000 feet altitude, he hit 4:38 for 1,500 meters. Five months later, he improved to 4:17, a time competitive with top American high school runners.
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