By Noah Allison–
The Louisville men’s cross country team had a particularly good season this past fall, placing in the top ten of four meets. They placed first out of 27 at the Winthrop invitational and finishing 10th out of 34 at the NCAA Southeast Regional meet. The youthful team is getting considerable contribution from freshman Ernest Kibet.
Kibet is the middle child between four sisters and three brothers. He lived with his family in the countryside near Eldoret, Kenya. In late August of 2013, Kibet arrived at the University of Louisville, moving away from the only home he ever knew, to travel across an ocean and run in a sport he had yet to participate in competitively.
I didn’t start running cross country until I reached the USA. My first cross country race was in America. I used to run track, the 800m and 5000m in high school,” Kibet said. “I started running track in 2008. Personally I just like running; in fact, sometimes I would run alone in the field. Sometimes people are not interested in running, but I would get out of my classes at four and I would run the 800m. I used to push it hard even though I was running alone sometimes.”
Kibet’s passion and natural talent is what made Louisville coaches sure he could make the transition. Throughout the season, Kibet met the highest of standards for a freshman in Louisville’s cross country program. Kibet, among other freshman accolades, became the third freshman in program history to earn all-conference honors at the Big East Championships, finishing in fifth place.
Kibet is one of three impactful freshmen cross country runners who moved here from Kenya. He is joined by fellow teammates Edwin Kibichiy, from Kapsabet, Kenya, and Japhet Kipkoech, from Keringet, Kenya. Kibet recalls the life-altering move from his home to the University of Louisville, and all the pains that came with it.
“I was very tired after the trip. I didn’t feel much better for about three days afterwards. It was my first time on a plane; I didn’t know how scary it could be, landing and having the plane balance itself out. When I reached Amsterdam I was very tired and wished we could just drive the rest of the way, but I still had an ocean to cross,” Kibet said.
“When I got to U of L, I absolutely felt a lot of differences, but what I had in my mind was just acceptance that anything that could be happening as long as I feel I’m safe. I didn’t have a big problem with the culture being different because I knew things would be fine at the end of the day.”
Kibet did not just leave his home to lead the cross-country team to victories; he came to receive the education and opportunity that U of L has to offer.
“When I finished high school, I imagined being an athlete. I could not find a place in Kenya where I could exercise my athletic ability as well as my studies. So I started researching foreign universities and Louisville was the best place for me,” Kibet said. “Personally, I would love to succeed in my major, nursing. And I would love to succeed in such a way that I can provide my services to the city of Louisville and maybe even go back to Kenya. In athletics, my target is improving times and if possible being a record holder in this school. And then after that many things could follow in my career. I would like to run marathons for my country some day.”
While many students at U of L aren’t too far away from home, Kibet represents the population of students who travel thousands of miles away from home, and thousands of miles from their own cultural norms.
“Where I’m from, it’s a village, and we farm there. We would farm animals like cows, sheep, chickens, and we would have dogs and cats, too. In the place where I live, people live communally; you meet friends, meet family friends, all sorts of people are living there and you know everybody in the region where you belong. Because it’s an open ground, we have ceremonies together. We celebrate any kind of event together and we like assisting each other in our way of life,” Kibet said.
Kibet has not had the opportunity to visit his family in Kenya, but he stays in contact with them throughout the week. Three of his sisters are also runners; one of them runs commercially while the other two are in school.
“My little sisters push me hard, and I push myself hard because I know I’m a role model to them,” said Kibet. “I must show them that I am doing the best I can.”
Photo courtesy of UofL Sports Information