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Soldier ‘runs’ to college, gearing toward competing in Army Ten-Miler

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By RACHAEL TOLLIVER

Imagine an individual was 8,000 miles from home, where the culture, food and language wasn’t their own — even the weather is a 180-degree change. And the individual packed up and moved there of their own will, chasing something better.

If a person could, then they would know a little of the life Alfred Kangogo, a medic at Ireland Army Health Clinic, has lived for the last nine years.

Kangogo is from Kimmoning, a village in Kenya, Africa, and found his way to a university in 2009 on a track scholarship. He said his journey started when college coaches from the United States were in Kenya watching high school competitions. He added that running for sport wasn’t looked at as something special at the time because in his culture everyone runs, partly because that’s how they get from point A to point B.

“I’d been running since I was little,” he explained. “I never knew I could go to college on a scholarship. That gave me motivation. I went home and told my parents and they thought it was crazy — to go to school just to run. Our parents told us to forget about it; it was crazy talk. They said to just keep studying.

“But what helped was seeing a local kid who went to Texas Tech and when our parents saw that, yes college was possible, they understood better. But it was hard. We had to take the SAT (entrance exams for colleges in the U.S.), and learn how to use computers — we don’t have that where we go to school, and we had to come up with the money for the tests and expenses to start — it cost a lot!”

Kangogo said when the offer from the University of Alaska-Anchorage came through, he accepted and “went from one of the hottest places to the freezer,” where he ran cross-country and track for the university while majoring in nursing.

While there, he didn’t just show up and run. He showed up and won.

In 2010, he qualified at the NCAA Championships for the 3,000-meter steeplechase, and provisionally in four events — the 800-meter, 1,500-meter, 5,000-meter and 10,000-meter. He also earned All-America honors in the 1,500, Most Out-standing Male Perform-er at the Great North-west Athletic Confer-ence Championships, and won the 800 with a time of 1 minute, 54.51 seconds and the 1,500 with a time of 3:49.03 — a UAA record.

For the next three years, Kangogo accomplished similar achievements.

In 2013, he posted his season-best 1:54.93 in the 800 at the GNAC Championships, helping UAA to a runner-up team finish in its indoor debut. In 2010-13, he was named All-Conference, All-American, All-Academic, and in 2011-13 also named All-Region.

Kangogo has also shouldered his share of difficulties.

He has only been home once since he left Kenya. He had to deal with the discovery and removal of a tumor in his jaw. And though his scholarship allowed him to attend college, he also held a job while being a student-athlete to help pay for his other expenses. He and his Kenyan roommates, who were also track athletes with jobs, also sent parts of their checks home to help their families. Income in their villages is scarce.

As college ended, he had another decision to make — whether to join the U.S. Army in the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program. It was an opportunity he took because he saw another path to get him to his goals.

“I chose the Army because it offers a lot of opportunities, and I wanted to be a medic because it was the closest thing to being a nurse the Army offered for the enlisted,” he explained. “I can do a lot of things with nursing, and I can go back to Kenya and help.

“It’s good to help people, and nursing lets me help people — that is what I want to do. Few people have a medical degree or experience where I come from. That is my motivation.”

Kangogo is not the only one with the vision.

This summer, he trained with his brother, Edwin, who was staying with him. Following in his older brother’s footsteps, Edwin is now in college in Alaska on a track scholarship and earning All-American titles.

While he said his goals are to run some marathons, Kangogo’s ultimate goal is to be part of the Army’s World Class Athlete Program — where he has some friends from Kenya — and compete in the Olympics.

Today, Kangogo is a U.S. citizen, married to a University of Louisville graduate and fellow Kenyan. He is also a new father, and is studying for a direct commission as an Army nurse. And there’s the 33rd Annual Army Ten-Miler.

Held Oct. 8 in Washington, D.C., the Army Ten-miler is the second largest such race in the United States. It starts from a parking lot at the Pentagon and passes by historic national landmarks along the way, such as Arlington National Cemetery, the Washington Monument, and the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials.

Kangogo admits this isn’t his first Army Ten-miler. In 2015, he finished it in 56:14.

To prepare the race, the medic said he starts each work day at 5 a.m. with a run. After work, he runs some more.

As far for his training diet, Kangogo said he and his Family don’t eat out much. When they do, it’s not fast food. He prefers the
traditional dishes he grew up eating, such
as Ugali accompanied with meat, or stews and greens.

In addition to running, he sometimes works on strength, like he did in college, but while most Soldiers see running as a part of physical training, it’s something more to Kangogo. He sees it as a way to stay healthy and fit, as a tool to better his mental state, and as a way to learn.

“Running exposes you to different people, different cultures, and you make friends because of it,” he explained. “I wouldn’t have gone to college if not for running, and certainly not in the U.S.

“Running has made me who I am now.” n