Cross Country |
Sept. 23, 2010
By Jeff Gentil
Through two races, Lilian Jelimo has done nothing to force UC Cross Country Coach Bill Schnier to back down from his proclamation that she was going to have another outstanding year. It's more of the standard for the senior who has had a brilliant career running for the Bearcats. Despite a few small obstacles, Jelimo is once again running like the three-time team MVP she is.
"When we went to camp to train (prior to the start of the season), she got sick," Schnier said. "Now she's battling a bad tooth and both have kind of held her back. But she's naturally a slow starter (to the season) anyway so it hasn't affected her as much (as it would others)."
"My stomach is getting better," Jelimo added. "And I got some fillings in my teeth so I'm feeling better. Everything is going great even though I didn't get very good weeks of training (prior to the season). I've been practicing well and I just want to get better every meet and improve every time."
For the typical student-athlete, that would be the extent of what would be considered road blocks. For Jelimo, it's just the tip of the iceberg. Typical student-athletes do not matriculate from Kapsabet, Kenya. Nor do they have to learn another language (she speaks four: Kalenjin, Swahili, British English, and now English) just to go to school. It would have been easy for Jelimo to become frustrated and return to her home where she was more in her comfort zone. But, she is no typical student-athlete.
Jelimo describes her hometown as "very small" and devoid of the medical facilities and amenities we take for granted every day. That's why after volunteering at a nearby health center for two years following high school graduation, Jelimo decided to leave her home and come to the United States to pursue nursing.
"I always dreamt of being in the medical field so I could help my community," she said. "I always prayed that God would help get me to school."
After being connected to UC from a friend at Iona College in New York, Jelimo got her wish and not only is she fulfilling her dream to be in the medical field, she is still able to feed her other passion - running.
"She has been our team MVP the last three years," Schnier said. "She is our top runner and has meant a lot to our team. (If all goes well) she is the one with the greatest opportunity to attend the National Meet this year for the first time. She has come close before, but has not qualified yet. She trains well and takes her running seriously; her schoolwork, too."
If the first few weeks of competition are any indication, Jelimo could very well reach her ultimate goal of the NCAA Championships in Terre Haute, Indiana. Despite finishing behind Michele McKenney at the season-opening meet - the Queen City Invitational - Jelimo cut 23 seconds off her time from last year. She was even better at the Iona Meet of Champions where she led the Bearcats and shaved 1:01 off her time from the same meet last year.
Still, Jelimo came to the U.S. to go to school. And the challenges she faced started the moment she stepped foot on campus: new surroundings, new culture, strange faces. And if that wasn't tough enough, a new language.
"Over in Kenya, they taught British English (in school), which is different from ours," Schnier said. "She came over with good language skills so her ability to learn (English) made the transition faster. Culturally, she had some preconceived ideas of America and what we would be like. She struggled initially. It was a combination of the lack of her own people and loneliness."
"It was really tough (in the beginning)," Jelimo added. "I couldn't understand the language; the accent is different. It made it hard to listen to and understand the professors. It was overwhelming."
Instead of letting it ruin her dreams, Jelimo pressed forward, eventually caught on, and forged ahead.
"I knew it was a great opportunity (to learn)," she said. "I was doing well in my classes so that was comforting. I missed my parents but I knew I had to finish my studies. I had no choice. It took me about two and a half quarters before I finally caught onto the language."
Jelimo is set to graduate in June and is actively pursuing a scholarship to continue her education in an attempt to become a nurse practitioner. But, she plans to return home one day.
"I will probably move back after I get my masters," she said. "I miss home and they need me at the hospital. They need me there more than here. If I (go home) a nurse practitioner, I will get to help a lot of people there."