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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Sambu’s Story

Valentina Martinelli
Valentina Martinelli / Arizona Daily Wildcat Cross country runner Stephen Sambu, an agribusiness economics and management junior, talks about his running experience at the McKale Center on Tuesday Nov 9. Sambu is one of the top five runners in the country.

It took Stephen Sambu 9,797 miles to get to the Arizonan desert from his hometown of Kaptagat in Kenya.

After only two and a half years in the United States, Sambu has made a name for himself as one of the country’s premier cross-country runners.  

But his journey to UA needed a pit stop at Rend Lake Community College, just south of Chicago.

“”It was very hard for me. Coming from Kenya it was very different from this place,”” Sambu said. Sambu relied on his teammates for a lot of support in his first few months at Rend Lake. He grew close with a few other runners who were also from Kenya, including Paul Tanui, who according to Sambu, is running for the Kenyan national team now.

Tanui was there to teach Sambu how to wash his clothes because Sambu had never used a washing machine before. Sambu also had difficulty adjusting to the food at his new home because it was so different from what he was used to.

“”I adjusted very quickly because I was with some guys and they helped me a lot,”” Sambu said. “”They showed me things to do. If I was alone it would be very hard.””

Sambu grew accustomed to the U.S. quickly and had one of the most successful careers in the history of Rend Lake. Sambu won back-to-back National Junior College Athletic Association cross-country titles, all while never losing a race in his junior college career.

At Rend Lake, Sambu was considered the No. 1 junior college cross-country runner in the nation. Despite the accolades, Sambu was not always a runner at heart, and he got a very late start.

“”I was in high school, and I was in junior year, and I used to sit around and do nothing,”” Sambu said. “”For a punishment, my teacher made me run three or four miles. My teacher said I can run very good, and I started running from that day.””

Sambu was discovered in 2006 while he was at Biwott Secondary School. Sambu was noticed by some recruiters while he was training. When asked if he would like to go to school in the U.S. on a running scholarship, he quickly enrolled in a training camp where potential student-athletes go through time trials.

Sambu has not been back to Kenya since he left in 2008, but plans to go back to visit in December of 2011.

The success that Sambu had at Rend Lake has carried over to his short time at Arizona. In the first two races Sambu ran in, he took home first place. Sambu has been held out of two races this year because the coaching staff did not feel his participation would be necessary.

A lower leg injury sidelined Sambu for the Pre-National Invitational. Even with the week off due to injury, which hampered his training, Sambu came back for the Pacific 10 Conference Championship meet and captured fifth place.

This past weekend Sambu took second place in the west regional’s earning him a spot in the NCAA championship meet next week.

Sambu has been the lone bright spot during a rebuilding year for men’s cross-country, as he and the coaching staff are hoping for a top-10 finish.

The decision for Sambu to come to Arizona was an easy one once he came for his first visit in the winter. Sambu said he really liked the weather compared to what he had to deal with at Rend Lake. He also felt really comfortable with the coaching staff and he liked what the program had done so far.

The coaching staff has raved about him all year and do not see him slowing down any time soon.

“”I feel like he is one of the best runners in the nation,”” said head coach James Li.

According to assistant coach Erin Dawson, “”The guy is just a stud.””

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