Freshman runner Kipchirchir a leader by example

Shadrack Kipchirchir of the WKU Cross Country team placed second in the men team’s first home meet at Kereiakes Park on Sept. 18.

Sam Osborne

Shadrack Kipchirchir had neither lived in the United States nor run competitively before this fall.

That hasn’t stopped the Eldoret, Kenya, native from making an immediate impact on the WKU cross country team.

Kipchirchir has led the Toppers in their past two meets, notching two straight runner-up finishes. At last week’s Greater Louisville Classic, one of the largest collegiate meets in the South, Kipchirchir’s time of 23:21.18 in the 8,000-meter race set a record as the eighth-fastest time on the E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park course.

Kipchirchir’s success hasn’t come as a surprise to Head Coach Erik Jenkins.

“We expect our athletes to make an impact from the beginning,” Jenkins said. “He’s a very young athlete that has taken the right strides. He’s really starting to take off, and he is making positive progress.”

Kipchirchir won his first Sun Belt Conference runner of the week award following the Sept. 18 Old Timers Classic. Though he has only been training as a runner since January 2009, Kipchirchir has surprised himself so far this season.

“I was not expecting to perform this well,” he said. “I was very nervous in my first meets, because most of the people I run with have more experience.”

As a beginner, Kipchirchir keeps his in-race strategy simple.

“I just follow the leaders all the way through,” he said.

His tactics have worked so far. Kipchirchir’s pair of runner-up finishes have led WKU at both of the men’s meets this season.

And though Kipchirchir may lack experience, Coach Emeritus Curtiss Long believes the freshman runner is a leader in the making.

“He came to us well-conditioned, which is always a plus,” Long said. “He’s talented and competitive. He has an exuberance for life, and he is a good teammate. Put all of that together ,and you have a maturing leader.”

Jenkins isn’t worried about Kipchirchir continuing his string of top finishes, but instead he hopes the freshman is able to continue improving.

Kipchirchir said he sometimes gets homesick, but he has grown to enjoy WKU along with his coaches and teammates.

“Of course I miss home sometimes,” Kipchirchir said. “But I like Western so much. It is a good place. My teammates and coaches have helped me so much with training and learning the discipline of running.”

Long said success will continue for Kipchirchir if he remains dedicated.

“He simply has to put himself in the right situation to make himself succeed,” Long said.

With the postseason approaching — the Sun Belt Championships are Oct. 30 at Kereiakes Park — Kipchirchir is hoping for at least another runner-up finish and maybe more.

“I just want to maintain my momentum all the way through the season,” Kipchirchir said.