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Out of Africa

Chris Coduto/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Robert Cheseret is one of Arizona's premier distance runners. Cheseret broke the Arizona freshman 5,000-meter record with a time of 13:45.88.
By Lindsey Frazier
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, February 24, 2004
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Kenyan Cheseret sets pace for UA track team

As one of the country's premier college distance runners, Robert Cheseret excels at traveling a long way in a short time. And he should he came to Tucson all the way from Kapsabet, Kenya.

Two years ago, Robert Cheseret competed in track and cross country for the Kurgung Boys High School in his hometown, where he was inspired by the performances of his nine siblings who also run.

After a difficult transition, the sophomore now serves as an integral part of the UA men's track team, as he continually leads the Wildcats in the distance events.

Though he has been with Arizona for less than two years, his improvements have been dramatic. In 2003, Cheseret placed second in the 5,000-meter event at the Pacific 10 Conference Championship and third in the same event at the NCAA Outdoor Championships. He broke the Arizona freshman 5,000-meter record with a time of 13:45.88.

"He is a lot more adjusted (now)," said UA assistant coach James Li. "Coming from Kenya, there were a lot of things he had to learn."

In Kapsabet, Cheseret said the track and cross country programs were not as structured. He explained that his high school running program lacked a definite schedule and was not as serious.

Despite the shortcomings of this training, Cheseret developed a passion and competitive drive for the sport, as he followed in the footsteps of his six sisters and three brothers.

"My brothers' and sisters' influence made me start (running). They gave me motivation and I realized I also have a talent to run," Cheseret said.

Since joining the Arizona team, Cheseret has become significantly quicker an improvement he credits to the organization, amenities and opportunities provided in Tucson.

"Going to the weight room and lifting is making me a little stronger," Cheseret said, adding that receiving shoes, clothes and other essentials from the university has helped him in reducing his times.

It is clear to the Arizona coaching staff that Cheseret is not taking these privileges for granted.

"He has respect and joy for the opportunity to compete at this institution, and in his mind, it's the greatest thing that's happened to him," said head coach Fred Harvey. "He's grateful to be here and for everyone on the team."

Despite his accomplishments, Cheseret maintains he is not fast enough and has set equally ambitious standards for the 2004 season.

"I know I have endurance," said Cheseret, "but I need more speed. I'm really excited and I've been training really well recently. My aim is to win at nationals."

Coach Li said Cheseret can improve on last year's finish.

"There's definitely a chance," he said. "Sometimes it is not totally up to you. He definitely has the potential to get better, but there's not too much room for him to go."

"We really have not had a really competitive race for him yet. We will see his time improve significantly amongst more competition."

Cheseret's biggest challenges come as he tries to balance training twice a day with working part-time and maintaining his grades in civil engineering. He admits the pressure can be overwhelming, but claims to work well under it.

In addition to the stress, Cheseret was also faced with the burden of adjusting to American culture.

"I had a hard time here. My English was different and (it was) hard to communicate," he said.

In spite of the initial language barrier, Cheseret said he was still able to form strong bonds with his teammates.

"He's very well-liked by the team," Li said. "There is no barrier or gap with the teammates."

In a sport that emphasizes individualism, Cheseret hopes his contributions can elevate the status of the men's track team.

"(When I am) running well, I improve the school's name and make Arizona known on the national level," he said.

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