Going the distance

Kyle Roerink

KSU runner sees athletics as gateway to higher education

Rachel Kilroy | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

Not all Kenyans have the luxury of owning shoes. But the first time Hosea Laktabai ran without his Nikes was during a track practice at Kent State.

Two weeks after he arrived in the U.S., the junior finance major and Flashes’ distance runner forgot his spikes in his dorm room but decided to practice without them anyway.

“In Kenya I’ve never ran without shoes,” he said. “.It was just something I did. I didn’t even think about it. The team was like, ‘Whoa, he is crazy.'”

Impressed with his quickness, his teammates learned that his celerity comes from hard work, genetics and the town where he was raised.

“Among the 42 tribes in Kenya, Kalenjin is my tribe, and most of the elite athletes come from my tribe,” he said. “My tribe comes from the highlands in the Great Rift Valley …

“There is a lower concentration of oxygen because the higher you go, the levels go down. When you live in this place for a long time, your body gets used to using low levels of oxygen.”

The Kalenjin tribe lives in altitudes between 6,000 and 7,000 feet in the Great Rift Valley, and running in lower altitudes is, Laktabai said, “like having more gas.” In the 2008 Olympics, Kenya won five gold, five silver and four bronze medals in long-distance running events. Laktabai said genetics plays a factor when it comes to the renowned success of Kenyan long-distance runners.

“It’s not all Kenyans,” he said. “There are people from other tribes who live in the same region and don’t run well.”

He said the shape of the lower-leg muscles among the different tribes varies, and he thinks the reason why his people are so successful is due to their leaner and skinnier legs.

Laktabai said his favorite part about being on the track team is competing, and admits he likes to see which runners can endure the most pain and finish the race.

“I want to run to the finish line,” he said. “And beating your opponents, that is the best thing that comes with running – when you see who has the most guts to make it to the finish line.”

In Kenya, Laktabai said, running is for the poor, while academics are for those who have money. He said most Kenyan athletes seen on television are from very poor families.

“In universities (and) colleges, they don’t take it seriously,” he said. “The people who come from less fortunate families who can’t afford college do running.”

Excelling in both sports and academics in high school, Laktabai competed in time trials meant for Kenyans who want to run at foreign universities. At the time, he was surprised that students could partake in both higher learning and a high echelon of athletics.

“In the U.S. we have a lot of student-athletes who are Kenyan,” he said. “But that only happens here, not in Kenya.”

Maintaining a 3.72 GPA, Laktabai loves the balance of education and athletics in the United States. He said American runners may not be as fast, but they are “dedicated.”

Senior marketing major and teammate Tony Jordanek said having Laktabai on the track team has been a lot of fun and educational.

“I learned a lot of things about how it is in Kenya,” Jordanek said. “It kind of teaches me to live maybe differently. His diet was a lot more strict when he was in Kenya, and that was definitely something I was interested in.”

Although running is a universal sport, the conditions and the climate are not as ubiquitous. Coming from the arid and hot climate of East Africa, Laktabai had never seen snow until he arrived in Kent more than two years ago, but he loves running in the inclement weather conditions conducive to Kent.

“Sometimes my teammates play games while we are running – like throwing snowballs,” he said. “They make it fun. I like that.”

Contact minority affairs reporter Kyle Roerink at [email protected].