Kennedy Kithuka wasn’t invited to Friday’s pre-race news conference at the NCAA cross country national championships.
The media availability was for the favorites to win the race, and the coordinators of the event didn’t believe Kithuka — who had crossed the finish line first in his previous six races — was one of the top contenders.
Kithuka, a junior at Texas Tech, proved everyone wrong when he won the men’s 10,000-meter race by seven seconds Saturday in Louisville, Ky.
Kithuka said he embraced the underdog role as he ran against past champions.
“It’s a great achievement for me,” said Kithuka, who transferred from Wayland Baptist to Tech after running for two years for the Pioneers. “I feel I was worthy after that. I feel like it’s my first accomplishment in my sport.”
Although it may be his biggest accomplishment to date, Kithuka’s victory certainly wasn’t his first.
Kithuka, who was announced as an All-American on Monday, won two NAIA national championships in 2012 in the 5,000-meter and 10,000-meter runs.
The native of Thika, Kenya, transferred to Tech from Wayland after his sophomore season, but Kithuka’s plan was always to come to Lubbock to run.
Tech coach Jon Murray said he first saw Kithuka five years ago on a trip to Kenya, and the coach immediately saw the caliber of runner that could fit in at Tech.
“I was very happy on that plane trip back to Lubbock,” Murray said. “(Kithuka) had outstanding ability and also was an outstanding person that could fit into our program very well.”
Kithuka knew he could have a chance to run in Kenya when he finished high school, but the cost of running and attending school was an issue.
He said he was looking for colleges in Kenya, but he might have had difficulty going up the rungs of the post-prep Kenya school system.
It might have taken him as many as seven years to get all of his degrees and diplomas in the same amount of time it would take at a four-year school in the United States.
Also, it would have been a financial burden on Kithuka and his family to attend college in Kenya, and Kithuka might not have been able to run while keeping his finances afloat at school.
So when Tech and Wayland came calling, Kithuka jumped at the chance to both run and get an education.
Kithuka, who has aspirations of running beyond college, is realistic about his running career. Education is the NCAA champion’s priority.
He is majoring in the human sciences department at Tech, hoping to become a counselor when he graduates.
“Education is very important for me,” he said. “Running is just something that would just come and go sometime. I will not run forever, but education is something that will stay for many years.”
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