By Sgt. Takita LaweryJuly 28, 2014
With the sun still early in its ascent of the Kansas sky, the runner begins his warm-up routine. He jogs around a grassy field, stretches his arms above his head, stretches his legs and takes a couple swigs of water. He mentally envisions winning the race in his immediate future, thus securing him a position on the Fort Riley Ten-Miler Team. As he steps up to the starting line, only one thing is certain in his mind: he has done everything he can.
For Spc. Samuel Kosgei, running is not just a military physical fitness requirement, but a passion.
"When you love what you do, it's easier to run the extra mile to become the best," said Kosgei, a combat medic assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division.
The activity that is now so intertwined in his life -- running, started out of necessity. Kosgei grew up in the small Ugandan town of Kapchorwa where he was the oldest child of eight. With no vehicle and not even a bicycle to ride, Kosgei ran five miles daily to and from school.
It was not until high school that the thrill of competition made running much more than just a way of life. All those years of running as a small boy had, in fact, prepared him for what was to become his future.
"It was my high school track coaches back in Uganda who realized I had a talent in running before I noticed that I was actually good," Kosgei said. "I didn't start off knowing that I was going to be a runner."
Kosgei earned a track and field scholarship to attend Ndejje University in Uganda. He later transferred, along with his future wife and fellow athlete, Mercy, to Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas.
While at Lamar, Kosgei continued to dominate on the track. He was a three-time NCAA Division I All-American in the 5,000-meter indoor, 10,000-meter outdoor and cross country events. Upon graduating college in 2010 with a bachelor's degree in health science, he went on to compete professionally world-wide.
"I love to challenge myself," Kosgei said. "Anything that causes me to feel like I pushed myself to the limit, that's what I want to continue to do."
With aspirations of becoming a member of the U.S. Track and Field Team for the 2016 Summer Olympics and a love for the country that embraced him in college, Kosgei enlisted in the Army in 2013. He gained his citizenship through the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program, a recruiting program which allows certain legal, non-citizens to enlist.
"What better way to show loyalty you want to call home other than to serve in its Army and represent it in the Olympics," Kosgei said.
During the 1st Inf. Div.'s annual Victory Week in June, Kosgei tied for first place with a time of 53 minutes, 36 seconds during the 10-mile run, gaining the attention of the Fort Riley Ten-Miler Team. He was quickly invited to train with and try out for the team.
"I just wanted to go out there for fun and support my unit," Kosgei said.
Kosgei trained with the Fort Riley team daily, averaging 90 miles a week in hopes of earning a spot by doing well at the Fort Riley's annual Prairie Run -- the only qualifier to determine what Soldiers would officially represent Fort Riley in the Army Ten-Miler in Washington, D.C. Not only did Kosgei place first in the 10-mile Prairie Run, but he also beat his own record time, crossing the finish line in 50 minutes, 12 seconds.
"It took a lot of dedication and training to come out on top," Kosgei said.
Lt. Col. Sean Ryan, 1st Inf. Div. public affairs officer and Fort Riley Ten-Miler team coach, said Kosgei's talent was Olympic caliber and something that could be honed and strengthened, but certainly not taught.
"One either has that type of speed and endurance or they don't," Ryan said. "And Kosgei is one of the fortunate ones, but the difference is he strives to perfect his art.
"To run well under pressure and to win with high stakes is remarkable. Winning the race solidifies Spc. Kosgei as one of the top runners in the Army."
As a full time Soldier, husband and father, having the time to continue pursuing his passion is difficult, but Kosgei said it was possible through the support and cooperation of his wife and their 3-year old son Brian. Mercy, because of her experience as a former track and field athlete, understands the physical and mental stress and strain her husband endures. Mercy attends every competition and even drives behind him in the family car during training to provide him with motivation and water.
"Kosgei is a great runner, father, husband and even a better person," Ryan said. "He exemplifies all the finest traits of a 'Big Red One' Soldier and represents Fort Riley in a classy way.
News of Kosgei's talent has extended beyond the gates of Fort Riley. He was named last week to the All-Army Marathon Team and the All-Army Ten-Miler Team. He will run in October 12's Army Ten-Miler as part of the All-Army Team and as a member of the Fort Riley team as the two compete in different categories. He was also invited to participate in the Marine Corps Marathon, the third largest marathon in the country, as part of the All-Army Marathon Team Oct. 26.
Kosgei has his sights set on the Army Ten-Miler, which draws elite runners from across the world, but he isn't just thinking about himself. He said his team has what it takes to place first.