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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    From Kenya to America: It runs in the family

    Senior runner Robert Cheseret, right, stands with his wife Dorcas Chepkoech, center, and his sister Irene Lagat in front of the statue of John Button Salmon near McKale Center. Lagat, a sophomore runner at Arizona, and Cheseret are two of 10 siblings who developed a love for running from their parents, Richard and Marsalina.
    Senior runner Robert Cheseret, right, stands with his wife Dorcas Chepkoech, center, and his sister Irene Lagat in front of the statue of John Button Salmon near McKale Center. Lagat, a sophomore runner at Arizona, and Cheseret are two of 10 siblings who developed a love for running from their parents, Richard and Marsalina.

    “”Kapchii.””

    It means “”family”” in the language Kalenjin, spoken by Arizona cross country runners Robert Cheseret – who carries the family last name – and his younger sister, Irine Lagat – who took her father’s middle name as her last. These are just two siblings from a kapchii of 10 siblings who grew up running since childhood.

    “”Even Dad and Mom were runners,”” Robert said of his parents, Richard and Marsalina. “”They taught the rest of the family to run.””

    Growing up on a family farm in Kapsabet, Kenya, where competitive running is the equivalent to hockey in Canada, Robert, Irine and the others were quick to love the sport because it brought the family together.

    But running wasn’t always a sport to them.

    Every morning, the children sold milk and helped their father, who was a veterinarian and farmer, with the cows, among other chores that took up much of their time. In order to avoid tardiness, the children often had to run a kilometer and a half to the local Catholic primary school.

    “”When you were late, you were punished,”” said older brother Bernard Lagat.

    Little did the nuns of Kenya know that they were molding a future Olympic runner in Bernard, who would one day become a medalist in 2004 in Athens and in 2000 in Sydney.

    “”When you see the kids over there running to school, it was like a race,”” he said. “”But really, it was just to be on time because they all had similar (tasks) to do in the morning.””

    The children would come home around lunchtime, go back to school for evening classes, and then return home by foot. They were walking or running six kilometers – just under four miles – daily, five days a week.

    Until their teenage years, running was a mode of transportation, not recreation.

    As they grew older, Irine played volleyball and badminton and Robert played soccer and volleyball, but it was merely for entertainment.

    “”Those games were just for fun,”” Robert said. “”We ran for competition.””

    But they never ran as a 10-person family pack because of the age difference. There is a space cushion of more than 20 years between the oldest child and the youngest.

    “”By the time we were old enough to think about running, Mary was running professionally,”” Irine said of her second-oldest sibling, who competed in Australia and Japan. “”She would come home and be like, ‘OK guys; ready, set, go.’ And everyone would take off and race each other. I think that’s how we began running.””

    Just as their parents taught Mary about running, she passed her skills and knowledge on to her brother, Bernard.

    Bernard said he has emulated Mary.

    “”I saw my sister running internationally, and I didn’t know what it meant at first,”” he said. “”But then I grew up and I thought, ‘This is really cool. My sister is running, and she has been able to travel internationally.'””

    Since being recruited from Kenya in 1996 to run under UA head coach James Li, then at Washington State, Bernard has proved himself to live up to Mary’s standards and more.

    “”When I came to Washington State, coach Li believed in me,”” Bernard said. “”He didn’t see me as a collegiate athlete. He saw me as a future professional athlete. He told me, ‘We are training for college, but we have to look past college.'””

    Together, they built a very prestigious resume.

    Bernard was the 2006 USA outdoor 1,500-meter and 5,000m champion, 2004 Olympic 1,500m silver medalist, 2004 World Indoor Championships 3,000m gold medallist, 2002 World Cup 1,500m champion, 2000 Olympic bronze medallist, 2001 World Outdoor Championships 1,500m silver medallist, U.S. indoor 1,500m and mile record holder (3:49.89), and U.S. outdoor 1,500m record holder.

    After 10 years, the Tucson resident Bernard still trains under Li.

    “”I give him workouts telling him how much to run and how fast to run on a fairly daily basis,”” Li said.

    Bernard ran his last race for Kenya in the 2004 Summer Olympics and officially became a United States citizen after that.

    “”It was a difficult decision to make because I ran for Kenya for a long time and my parents are very patriotic people,”” he said. “”It was also very important for me to give back to America, where I went to college and graduated. As I run for America now, I feel that I’m giving back to the community.””

    Robert said that if representing America pleases his brother, then it pleases him as well.

    “”I’m happy seeing someone doing something they like to do, what’s in their heart,”” he said.

    Even if Bernard is running for the red, white and blue now, Robert said that he still looks up to runners from his homeland.

    “”Kenyan runners are our role models,”” he said. “”(Kenyan marathon runner) Paul Tergat has done very well, so a lot of people look up to him.””

    Although he has never run a marathon before, Robert marveled at Tergat’s world record time of 2:04:55 as he thumbed through an article in “”Runner’s World Magazine”” about Tergat’s upcoming showing in the New York City Marathon on Nov. 5.

    “”He’s fast,”” Robert said.

    But so is Robert, who is aiming to race in Beijing in the 2008 Olympics with Bernard.

    “”It is great to see my younger brother have the desire to run in the Olympics and have that focus and determination,”” Bernard said.

    “”I always challenge Robert,”” he added. “”I tell him ‘You have to run with an old man now.’ And he says ‘Yes, and I’m going to kick you.'””

    Robert just has to qualify in the Kenyan trials.

    Running together in the Olympics would definitely say something for Li’s coaching.

    It wouldn’t surprise him in the least to see them do well together, he added.

    “”If you’ve been to Kenya, then you know the history of Kenyans competing on the world stage,”” Li said. “”Running is probably the most important thing and most achieved sport of all Kenyan sports.””

    After Bernard told Li about Robert and Irine, Li took “”four or five trips to Kenya and got to know them well and recruited them to Arizona,”” Li said.

    “”When you first get here you can’t stop thinking about home, but after a while you get used to the change,”” Robert said.

    Friends, family, food and ceremonies are missed the most, Irine said.

    “”You also miss different seasons,”” Robert said. “”December is the best time. It is warm. Christmas and New Year’s is a lot of fun. We don’t have Thanksgiving, so they are big for us.””

    But it certainly helps to have family with you in a new country.

    “”We motivate each other,”” Robert said. “”We don’t feel homesick because we have each other. We feel like we are at home. So we feel comfortable and are able to stay focused on running.””

    Said Irine: “”Robert has helped me a lot the first few weeks I was here. I couldn’t imagine being here by myself.””

    But really, she is far from being by herself.

    Of the 10 siblings in the family, one more lives in America (Everlyne Lagat of New Mexico), while the six others still live in Kenya.

    To match the family she has recently joined, Robert’s new wife, Dorcas Chepkoech, is also part of a 10-sibling family of which four members live in America and six live in Kenya.

    That makes for a 20-sibling family all together.

    But it only begins there.

    “”We have a good relationship with our coaches,”” Robert said. “”They are happy about us being here, and we can go to them for anything. They’re like our parents.

    “”That would make all of our teammates brothers and sisters.””

    Two countries. One Kapchii.

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