Called to run and to help, Liberty’s Ednah Kurgat smashing records

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Ednah Kurgat runs at Liberty University not for individual glory and recognition. She runs to help the people of Kenya and does it with a spiritual approach.

By attending classes along with slipping on a white tank-top, red track shorts and neon green Nikes, Kurgat is in the beginning stages of her goal of helping the West African country ravaged by infectious diseases.

When she graduates three years from now with a degree in public health, Kurgat hopes to slip on a white medical jacket and latex gloves to help curb the more than 25,000 cases of Ebola as well HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis in her native country.

“We have many, many health problems,” said Kurgat, who grew up in the Kenyan city of Eldoret. “I heard the call. If God gives me a chance to do these courses, it will be a great benefit to my people back in Kenya. It is my prayer that I get the knowledge to help my home country.”

Kipping and Pauline Kurgat raised all of six their children emphasizing a life of spiritual devotion. Kurgat’s steps, whether in a race or to the classroom, are being ordered.

“My parents nurtured me to grow spiritually and have faith wherever I go,” said Kurgat. “God called me to run. What I have in my mind is to do my best; to do what God has for me. I know that he has a good plan and I’m gonna work for it.”

The plan continued in September. Kurgat’s running prowess was so exceptional this season, she rewrote the Liberty cross country record book, more remarkable considering she enrolled as a freshman in January 2015.

In three races before the Oct. 31 Big South Championship, Kurgat placed first out of 40 runners, seventh out of 123 and second out of 237. Her second-place finish was at 6K Pre-Nationals in Louisville, the same course that would host the NCAA National Championship. She completed the race in 20:22.

At the conference championship, Kurgat’s time of 17:12 placed her second. It was the fastest Liberty women’s time ever in the 28 years Liberty has been in the Big South.

By placing second, Kurgat qualified for the NCAA Southeast Regional Championships. A total of 235 runners — from Power 5 conferences such as N.C. State, Kentucky, Clemson, and Louisville along with other smaller schools — competed in this region. Kurgat was the fastest freshman in the race and finished second with a time of 20:28. In doing so, Kurgat became the first ever Liberty female freshman to qualify for the NCAA Division I Cross County Championships on Nov. 21 in Louisville.

It warranted a late night phone call eight time zones away.

“Right after (regionals) I spoke to my parents,” Kurgat said. “They are of great faith. They have been encouraging me toward running well. I had been in their prayers.”

Kurgat reaffirmed her running prowess staying in the lead pack for a majority of the 6K NCAA championship race. At one point she was in sixth place and was no lower than 10th. She dropped out of the top 10 only because she fell midway through the race. Despite falling, Kurgat still broke the Liberty women’s 6K record with a time of 20:06. She crossed the finish line in 12th place. Hours after the race, Kurgat got one more accolade no Liberty female cross country runner can lay claim to: Division I All-American.

“I was impressed with the performance and the effort,” Kurgat said. “I did my best considering the fact that it was my first time participating in such a big meet. My goal was to become an All-American and I am glad that my prayer was answered.”

Now she is bidding to become Liberty woman to earn Division I All-America honors in cross country, indoor track and outdoor track in the same academic year.

The sophomore’s outdoor track season has included only two races, but she shattered school and conference 5K records with a time of 15:48.63 at the Mt. SAC Relays on April 15. That ranks No. 2 in the East Region and No. 6 nationally this season heading into this week this weekend’s NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Outdoor Track and Field Championships preliminary competitions.

Kurgat, who also captured the Big South women’s 10K title on May 10, competes in the 5K semifinals at 8:05 p.m. Saturday at North Florida in Jacksonville. The top 12 finished advanced to the  NCAA Championships on June 8-11 in Eugene, Ore. 

A return trip to Kenya to see family and celebrate her accolades could come this summer or next. Before that though another semester of classes and indoor track competition awaits. Unlike cross county, people already know what Kurgat accomplished — she was Big South Freshman of the Year, the Big South women’s 3K champion and set the Liberty women’s indoor track 5K record with a time of 16:28.29.

“The day I meet (Liberty assistant) coach (Rebekah) Ricksecker was the day my life started changing and things started becoming easier,” Kurgat said.

When Kurgat goes back home with her public health degree, she hopes to change life in Kenya for the better. It’s all in the plan.

• NCAA Regionals participants and start lists

Above: Ednah Kurgat’s speed and desire to help propel her to succeed. (Courtesy Kyle Terwillegar/USTFCCCA)
Keith Chartrand

Keith Chartrand

Keith Chartrand is a freelance writer based in Ocala, Fla.