By: Kate Meriwether
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
With contributions by: Faith Penn (Texas Tech Athletic Media Relations)
Kipyego is a seven-time national champion and is scheduled to graduate from Tech’s nursing school. Texas Tech cross country coach Jon Murray said the impact Kipyego has had on the program has been revolutionary.
“She has taken both the cross country and track teams to heights we’ve never been,” Murray said. “She has been on the highest placing teams we have had in either sport.”
Kipyego’s journey to become a collegiate runner, as well as her interest in practicing health care, began thousands of miles from West Texas. When she was in growing up in her home country of Marakwet, Kenya, she would run more than 15 miles a day to attend school.
One day on their way home from school, one of her brother’s friends, Elias, was riding a bicycle when he suffered a hard fall. It was Kipyego’s job to run and seek help. She recalls running over seven miles to a clinic in a nearby village where she found a doctor who refused to treat her friend. After he locked her out of his clinic, she ran back to see if there was anything else she could do.
She arrived just in time to see that Elias’ condition had worsened, and she was left with no other options than to sit with her brother to hold Elias in their arms as he died.
That experience for motivated her to excel in the health care profession. Her goal is to bring her knowledge back to her home country.
“She knew that getting an education in the U.S. would be a way for her to help people in her home country,” Murray said, “and running was the vehicle to a better end.”
Kipyego began her running career in 2000 at the age of 14. That was when she won her first Kenyan national cross country title. In 2001, she represented Kenya in the IAAF World Cross Country Championships and finished eighth. A stress fracture prevented her from joining the 2002 and 2003 teams before she left to attend college in the United States.
Kipyego spent three semesters at South Plains Junior College in Lubbock, Texas, where she won seven NJCAA national titles. After her junior-college career, Kipyego was immediately scooped up by Tech.
“She was heavily recruited,” Murray said, “but we established a good relationship and she had friends here. We were thrilled to have her.”
During her time at Tech, she has won seven individual national titles. She is also the first Kenyan woman to win an NCAA cross country individual championship, and is one of only seven women in NCAA history to win four national titles in one season.
In December of 2006, Kipyego was selected as the top female college cross country athlete in the U.S. Last November, she won her second consecutive national cross country championship, breaking the course record by 18 seconds.
Kipyego has solidified her spot in the Big 12 and Texas Tech record books. Kipyego is the first individual champion in cross country at Tech to win a NCAA title and she recently became the first three-time winner of the Big 12 Women’s Cross Country Championship. In addition, she was also chosen for the second time as the recipient of the Honda Sports Award Ė given to the nation's top collegiate cross country athlete.
Kipyego’s running schedule and nursing classes keep her busy well into the late evening on most days. Making rounds can keep her standing for as long as 12 hours, and then she still has a workout to run. On most days she trains by herself and often on a treadmill.
“She has an intense desire to be a nurse,” Murray said. “There have been many obstacles where she could have just given up, but she has worked through them and is almost there.”
Kipyego has been running competitively for less than seven years but has developed into one of the most accomplished distance runner in NCAA history. She has broken several school track records set by two-time NCAA Champion and former Red Raider Leigh Daniel who ran for Tech from 1998-2001.
After winning her sixth and seventh national titles at the 2008 NCAA Division I Indoor and Outdoor Track and Field Championships, the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association honored Kipyego with the indoor Women’s Track Athlete of the Year accolade. She received the same award for the outdoor season.
She has the opportunity to exceed the record of nine NCAA individual championships held by Suzy Favor-Hamilton (Wisconsin-Madison, 1991).
The titles she currently holds at Tech include: 2006 and 2007 NCAA cross-country titles; 2007 indoor 3000M, indoor 5000M, and outdoor 10,000M; and 2008 indoor 5000M and outdoor 5000M. A nine-time All-America selection, Kipyego has won 11 Big 12 Championships in cross country and track combined.
This season she has led the No. 9 Texas Tech women’s squad to its first Big 12 Cross Country Championship, and is fresh off winning her third consecutive NCAA Regional.
Kipyego has not lost a cross country race in Division I competition. She will defend her NCAA title at the 2008 NCAA Cross Country Championships this Saturday in Terre Haute, Indiana. If she is successful, she'll become the first female runner to win three straight national championships in the sport.