HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - "Geoffrey [Kipchumba] was, without a doubt, one of the most talented athletes that we've ever dealt with," said William Carey track & field coach Blake Hegstrom.
With nine NAIA individual national championships in four seasons, Geoffrey Kipchumba is arguably the most-decorated athlete in William Carey history.
Yet, the many miles Kipchumba has run as a Crusader is nothing compared to the distance he travelled from his native city Eldoret, Kenya.
"Growing up in Kenya's quite, very different from here," Kipchumba said. "As a kid, you grow up seeing a lot of athletes running around. In the morning, you see hundreds if not thousands of athletes running. We grew up, we loved running a lot. We don't run just for fun. We set a goal of running."
Kenya is not exactly a secret in the world of running. The East African country has brought home 25 Olympic medals in long-distance events, including 6 gold, beginning with Naftali Temu's in 1968.
As a child, Kipchumba walked three miles to school every day. Once he realized how fast he could run three miles, Kipchumba figured he ought to try to earn a college scholarship.
"Running was in me but I never realized that I had that potential of running," Kipchumba said. "So [I improved] when I started training – especially when I came here."
"When he came in to cross country camp his freshman year, he was a little bit out of shape for where we wanted him," said Hegstrom, who started the Carey cross country program six years ago. "With him, there was something special there that he was going to be able to do well through his career."
"Well" is an understatement. The senior's 5,000 meter title in May marked his ninth gold medal in four years – and Kipchumba sat out his freshman indoor season. A breakdown of Kipchumba's NAIA titles:
- 10,000 meters – 3 (Outdoor)
- 5,000 meters – 4 (1 Outdoor, 3 Indoor)
- 3,000 meters – 1 (Indoor)
- 8,000 meters – 1 (Cross Country)
In four short years, the fleet-footed Kipchumba has quickly become the face of William Carey running.
"His character's really what drives him," Hegstrom said. "His hard work, he comes in and puts the work in every day. And the thing that's really special about him is just the attitude he brings and just the humbleness."
Kipchumba is humble now because of his humble beginnings. The WCU senior took advantage of his American education – he plans to graduate in August and has considered enrolling in Carey's nursing school.
As far as his future in racing goes, Kipchumba's not ready to cross that finish line just yet. He hopes to keep shaving seconds off his two "main" events – the 10,000m and 5,000m. His current personal-bests are:
- 10,000 meters – 29:18
- 5,000 meters – 14:16
For reference, the qualifying standards for the 2016 U.S. Olympic team were:
- 10,000 meters – Automatic (28:15)
- 5,000 meters – Automatic (13:28)
"I think, really, he's got a high ceiling still," Hegstrom said. "We've seen some really good times but we haven't seen the best of him yet."
"For me to get here, I went through a long process to be here," Kipchumba said. "You work hard every day and try to see where you can go. It was worth it. I was praying to get a good opportunity in life. When I came here, I thank God for it."