By Payton Arnold
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Iowa State senior middle distance runner Edward Kemboi has taken a different path than most to winning a national champ, but one that is worth it in the end.
Kemboi’s journey began over 8,000 miles away from Iowa State’s campus in his hometown of Eldoret, Kenya. He didn’t know much about the United States or where he was going continue his track career, just that he had his sights set on landing at a United States university where he could get a top-level education, he could compete against the best and where he could win a national championship.
Two suitors came calling, Iowa State and UTEP, before Kemboi decided that Ames was the best place for him. His first day on campus came as a bit of a shock for someone whose home country usually has weather in the low 70’s every day.
“The first thing that I noticed was the weather,” Kemboi said. “Kenya is like 70’s all the time. I still remember my first day when I came here it was during the winter and it was like 80 in Kenya. When I came here it was maybe like five degrees outside. On that first day I came here I called my dad and told him that I wanted to come back home. He asked me what was going wrong and I told him that I wasn’t going to stay in this kind of cold anymore.”
After a talk with his dad, Kemboi decided that the opportunity to compete for a Big 12 program and earn a college education was too good to pass up. Things started to look up very soon during the first outdoor season of his collegiate career. He earned All-America honors after taking fifth in the 800-meter run at the 2011 NCAA Outdoor Championships.
While things seemed to be headed in the right direction, Kemboi had a few more hurdles to overcome. During his sophomore season, he suffered a stress fracture in his ankle after stepping on a small barrier that surrounds the track during a race. Iowa State also hired a new track and field staff, that Kemboi would get to know.
Under the tutelage of his new coaching staff, Kemboi would come within feet of his goal during his junior season. He earned runner-up honors at the 2014 NCAA Indoor Championships in the 800-meter run. After coming so close to his dreams, Kemboi knew that the next time he had the opportunity he was going to win it.
“Every time I look at the race I remember that experience. I say to myself that I’m going to do better than that.” Kemboi said. “I gained more confidence. I didn’t have as much confidence taking the race. I talked with my coach who told me that I need to trust myself. You don’t have to wait for others, go out and win it.”
After being the first athlete in history at the 2015 Big 12 Indoor Championships to win the 800 and 1,000-meter runs, Kemboi was set to compete in the 2015 NCAA Indoor Championships in the 800-meter run. After coming so close in the past, Kemboi knew he wasn’t going to be denied during his senior season. The Eldoret, Kenya, native earned his national championship after cruising to a first place finish, breaking the tape in 1:46.05.
Distance coach Jeremy Sudbury knew exactly how much it meant to Kemboi and how hard he had worked to get where he was.
“The credit goes to Ed,” Sudbury said. “It was very exciting to see him achieve that goal. When I first got here that was one of the goals that we set together in the summer time. Something that was kind of haunting him was that in that first indoor season he got second. He was excited because he was back from being injured, but also at the same time it was bittersweet because he came so close to achieving his goal. It really motivated him, I think. To be a part of it and to see him achieve that was really special.”
Halfway through the outdoor season, Kemboi has his sights set on another national championship. Following his graduation he will try to earn a spot on the Kenyan national team competing in the 2015 World Championships in Beijing, China.
While track and field has played a large part in his life, the next step after competing is almost more important to Kemboi. With his hometown on Eldoret, Kenya, surrounded by prime farmland and his family farming, it only seemed natural for him to earn a degree in agriculture from Iowa State University.
“I’m from a community where we usually grow corn,” Kemboi said. “From my experience we can make changes. We usually grow corn every year. From what I’ve learned from Agronomy we need to switch it up a bit. I want to go home and use what I’ve learned in Agronomy and assist everyone in the community. I’ll be able to tell people the things they need to do and things they don’t. For the last 15 years my family has grown corn and we can be more proficient.”
The move doesn’t surprise Sudbury at all. Helping other people is just something that Edward Kemboi is all about.
“Ed is a very personable person,” Sudbury said. “He really cares about his family and really cares about being Kenyan. He really enjoys his way of life and culture. Certainly I know that when he picked his major of agronomy it’s something that is very useful in Kenya with all the farming and everything that is done there. He will do a heck of a job in this professional career after he’s done running and go back and make a difference.”