By Rachael Tolliver-IRAHC PAOSeptember 27, 2017
Imagine you were 8,000 miles from home, where the culture, food and language aren't your own--even the weather is a 180 degree change. And you've packed up and moved there of your own will--chasing something better.
If you could, then you would know a little of the life Alfred Kangogo, a medic at Ireland Army Health Clinic on Fort Knox, has lived for the last nine years.
Kangogo is from Kimmoning--a village in Kenya, Africa--and found his way to a university in 2009 on a track scholarship. He said his journey started when college coaches from the U.S., were in Kenya watching high school competitions. He added that running for sport wasn't looked at as something special at the time because in his culture everyone runs--partly because that's how you get from point A to point B.
"I'd been running since I was little--I never knew I could go to college on a scholarship," he explained. "That gave me motivation. I went home and told my parents and they thought it was crazy--to go to school just to run. All (other Kenyan students) our parents told us to forget about it--it was crazy talk--they said to just keep studying.
"But what helped was seeing a local kid who went to Texas Tech and when our parents saw that, yes college was possible, they understood better. But it was hard! We had to take the SAT (entrance exams for colleges in the U.S.), and learn how to use computers--we don't have that where we go to school, and we had to come up with the money for the tests and expenses to start--it cost a lot!"
Kangogo said when the offer from the University of Alaska-Anchorage came through he accepted and, "went from one of the hottest places to the freezer," where he ran cross country and track for the university, while majoring in nursing.
And to be clear, he didn't just show up and run.
He showed up and won. For example:
In 2010 he qualified for the 3,000-meter steeplechase, and provisionally in four events -- 800-meter, 1,500-meter, 5,000-meter and 10,000-meter at the NCAA Championships; earned All-America honors in the 1500; he earned Most Outstanding Male Performer at the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Championships, and won the 800 meters with a time of 1:54.51 and the 1500 with a time of 3:49.03 -- a UAA record.
For the next three years he accomplished similar achievements.
In 2013 he posted his season-best time, 1:54.93, in the 800 meters at the GNAC Championships, helping UAA to a runner-up team finish in its indoor debut. In fact, in 2010-13 he was named All-Conference, All-American, All-Academic, and in 2011-13 also named All-Region.
Through it all, Kangogo has shouldered his share of difficulties starting with the fact he has only been home once since he left; dealt with the discovery and removal of a tumor in his jaw, and though his scholarship allowed him to attend college he also held a job while being a student athlete. It helped to pay for his other expenses. He and his Kenyan roommates, who were also track athletes with jobs, also sent parts of their checks home to help their families. Income in their villages is scarce.
And then as college ended, he had another decision to make--he was offered an opportunity to join the U.S. Army in the MAVNI program--Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest. It was a chance, and he took it because he saw another path to get him to his goals.
"I chose the Army because it offers a lot of opportunities and I wanted to be a medic because it was the closest thing to being a nurse the Army offered for the enlisted," he explained. "I can do a lot of things with nursing--and I can go back to Kenya and help.
"It's good to help people and nursing lets me help people--that's is what I want to do. Few people have a medical degree or experience where I come from--that is my motivation."
While he said his goals are to run some marathons, his ultimate goals is to be part of the Army's World Class Athlete Program, where he has some friends from Kenya, and make it to the Olympics.
Today, Kangogo is a U.S. citizen, married to a University of Louisville graduate--and fellow Kenyan, is a new father, is studying for his direct commission to be an Army nurse, and is preparing for the 33rd annual Army Ten-Miler.
The run, which will be held Oct. 8, in Washington, DC, is the second largest ten-mile race in the United States. It starts from the parking lot of the Pentagon and passes sites such as Arlington National Cemetery, and the Lincoln, Washington and Jefferson Memorials.
This isn't his first Army Ten-miler--in 2015 he finished with a time of 56:14. To put that into perspective, most of us might walk a mile or two, for his ten, in that same time.
The Army medic said he starts running at 5 a.m., after his workout he then goes to work, and runs when he gets home in the evenings. This summer he trained with his brother, Edwin, who was staying with him. Edwin, like his older brother, is in college in Alaska on a track scholarship and earning All-American titles.
As far as a training diet, he said they don't eat out much--and when they do it's not fast food. He prefers traditional dishes he grew up with such as Ugali accompanied with meat, or stews and greens.
In addition to running he may work on strength--like he did in college--but while most Soldiers see running as a part of physical training, it's something more to Kangogo. He sees it as a way to stay healthy and fit, as a tool to better his mental state, and as a way to learn.
"Running exposes you to different people, different cultures, and you make friends because of it," he explained. "From Alaska I got to travel--I saw all 50 states--and it paid for my schooling…I wouldn't have gone to college if not for running. And certainly not in the U.S.
"Running has made me who am now."