By: Brad Cox
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
For 21 years, Texas A&M senior cross country runner Shadrack Songok called Kabiyet, Kenya home. Three years ago, he left his family, Maji Mazuri High School and the cross country courses of Kenya to run in America.
Kabiyet is 55 miles from Kenya's border with Uganda. The rural area of Kabiyet, where Songok's parents and siblings still live, is made up of farmland.
"It's a small country," Songok said. "I lived in a rural area, then when I came here I stayed more close to city life. Generally (America is) a different life style than what I was used to."
Songok traveled to America to run for Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. He had set the school records in the 10,000-meter and 5,000-meter courses at Maji Mazuri High, which caught the attention of the Islanders.
When he arrived, he was surprised to see people waiting for him at the airport.
"The first thing they did to me was take me to a restaurant," Songok said. "Everything I saw in the menu was just — I didn't even know what was going on."
Things like chicken, broccoli and steak initially puzzled Songok. After spending three years in his new home, he has adjusted to American food - particularly breakfast.
"I cook a lot," Songok said. "I mix Kenyan and American food. My breakfast is all-American: pancakes and eggs. When it comes to restaurants what I get mostly, if not steak, is just some pasta or some grilled chicken salad. Once in awhile I like some Whataburger or stuff like that. I like lots of food, I'm not too picky."
He had no problem communicating with his hosts during his first days in America. He had learned English in Kenya where he had studied reading and writing. He attributes the closeness he shared with his teammates for easing his transition into a new home and lifestyle.
Songok has seven siblings still in Kenya, including his parents. The five oldest have families of their own, and his youngest brother and sister are in junior high and high school. He said he hopes to one day be able to bring his parents, who are farmers, to the U.S.
"Sometimes you have to just try to talk to them all the time, try to feel close to them," he said. "Sometimes you feel like you miss them, but it helps sometimes when you get busy and you've got a lot of things to worry about than just worrying about your family."
At A&M-Corpus Christi, Songok majored in chemistry and also clocked impressive times as a runner. In 2006, he earned All-America honors after finishing in 19th place at the NCAA Championship with a time of 31:23. His second trip to the Championship in 2007 ended with a seventh-place finish, earning All-America status again.
In 2008 he transferred to Texas A&M to begin graduate school and pursue a master's degree in material science. With one year of eligibility remaining, Songok joined the A&M cross country team.
He continued his success with his third consecutive South Central Region individual title, and carried the No. 22 A&M men's cross country team to its first NCAA Championship berth in five years.
"It's really exciting," Songok said before Monday's championship race. "I've been there two times now. Every time I go back there I want to do something different, maybe that I didn't try the last time. This time around, going with the team, I think it's going to be really exciting. It's a different atmosphere."
Running in his third and final national championship race, Songok finished the 10K event in 22nd place and became a three-time All-American cross country runner. The Aggies finished 30th overall in the team standings.
But for the Kenyan, it was just another part of doing what he loves. With his collegiate running career now over, Songok will continue working on his master's degree and will move forward in his scholastic endeavors.
"I'm going to stay (in America) for a while," Songok said. "Hopefully get a job, try to settle in and start getting things going. I'll try to stay here as long as I can, but maybe someday I'll probably go back to Kenya."