For the past three years, nursing student and UAA athlete Ruth Keino from Kenya has been running her heart out for the Seawolf cross-country and track & field teams.
Even though she’s been running since elementary school, it never occurred to her that running could become a passport to her future. “Running was an ability that was there,” she says, “I didn’t know it would take me somewhere.”
That somewhere was Alaska.
David Kiplagat, decorated Seawolf runner and current cross-country assistant coach, was getting ready to leave for the U.S. himself when he started talking to his younger cousin, Ruth, about the possibilities of attending college on a running scholarship. With connections to UAA already, David encouraged her to start running again in high school and helped her get her paperwork in order to apply.
Keino graduated high school in Kenya in 2005 with a desire to pursue a biology degree. She had to take the SATs twice and then the TOEFL in 2007, and even waited out political unrest in Kenya until she could go to the embassy safely in 2008 for her visa.
She began as a freshman at UAA in the fall of 2008.
Keino says that since arriving, her attitude toward running has changed a lot. At first the amount of training she did with the team resulted in injury by her second semester. “I couldn’t handle all the training at first,” she says. “I got stressed out and injured and almost didn’t know if it was going to work out.”
But her accomplishments over the past three seasons prove that her move to Alaska has worked out just fine She is a three-time All-Conference and two-time. All-Region and All-American runner, and among her achievements she counts shaving 30 seconds off her 10K time at Nationals and being honored as the 2011 Bill MacKay Athlete of the Year.
She’s learned to listen to her body and calibrate her running.
“Before a race, when we’re almost starting or even the day before, I get really nervous and I don’t want to talk,” she admits. “It’s not because I want to win or anything; I just get scared.
During the race, when the gun goes, I pay attention to my body. Am I straining? Am I comfortable? When I’m running and I’m straining, I try to pull back. When I get tired, I start singing: ‘Never say never, I will fight till forever.’ Yeah, that song really helps me out,” she laughs.
“And I remember everyone else is feeling the same; it’s not just you. In everything I do, I like my teammates to come with me. Running together pulls you and makes you strong. When I’m running, I also think about how grateful I am for the scholarship I’m on that has made my education possible and my dreams come true.”
This year will be Ruth’s last season on the cross-country team and she has two seasons left running track & field as she finishes up her studies in nutrition, transferring into the nursing program next summer. Although she started with her sights set on biology, her coaches persuaded her to narrow her focus to nursing, specifically, for better job prospects after her undergrad as well as a good field to focus her desire to help others.
“My coaches have been really supportive, athletically and academically,” she says. “When I get done with school, I don’t want to finish with just this degree. I still want to study, but … I want to get a job and work a little bit, and then after that return to studies.”
Where she goes next will depend on where she can get a job. But she’s willing to look Outside for opportunities. And Germany has always been on her bucket list, as well.
“We have a mission at my home in Kenya,” she says. “The missionaries came from Germany, so I’ve had in my mind that one day I would go to Germany. I have a greater chance to do that now.” But before Germany, her goal is to get back home to visit her family, whom she hasn’t seen since 2008.
“UAA is the place to be. You realize your dreams here,” she says. “‘What you believe is what you will be.’ But I don’t want to forget my family or my past because if I do, I will lose my direction.”
I AM UAA is a story series highlight students, staff, faculty and alumni from the University of Alaska Anchorage, posted at the UAA news service website, Green & Gold. Find more stories here.