Kenyan athlete Shadrack Kipchirchir Joins U.S. Army
Shadrack Kipchirchir isn’t the first Kenyan runner to take this path to U.S. citizenship.
Shadrack Kipchirchir, who closed out his Oklahoma State running career Wednesday night with a second place behind Oregon’s Edward Cheserek in the 10,000 at the NCAA Championships, is joining the United States Army’s World Class Athlete Program. Kipchirchir is the latest Kenyan runner to enter the program, which combines soldiering with competition, in part as a means of gaining U.S. citizenship.
Kipchirchir attended Western Kentucky before transferring to Oklahoma State, where we was part of the 2012 NCAA cross country team championship squad. His decision to join WCAP, according to ESPN, is prompted by appreciation of the chances he’s been given to prosper in the United States. His brother Nicholas is currently serving in the U.S. Army.
Kipchirchir will undergo basic training, and then be assigned to train in Oregon under Maj. Dan Browne, the West Point graduate who represented the United States in the 10,000 and marathon at the 2004 Olympics. Despite his status as an athlete, Kipchirchir will be expected to continue military preparedness with the possibility of being deployed overseas.
Mark Dunivan of the WCAP says that, in normal instances, athletes are in the program for three years leading up to the Olympic Trials in their sport, but Kipchirchir “is not going to have quite that long.” The enlisted man’s obligation to the Army is eight years (a combination of active and reserve duty). “If he makes [the Olympic team}, he gets to stay [in WCAP]. If he doesn’t make it, he gets released from the program and he’ll have to go back to his normal Army job,” Dunivan told Runner’s World Newswire.
Kenyan runners who’ve been in the WCAP include Joseph Chirlee, who became an American citizen in 2010 and was 15th in the 10,000 at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials; Augustus Maiyo, a steeplechaser while at the University of Alabama and the 2012 Marine Corps Marathon winner; and Robert Cheseret, who attended the University of Arizona and is the younger brother of Bernard Lagat. Paul Chelimo, a two-time NCAA 5000-meter runner-up for University of North Carolina-Greensboro, joined the program in May, according to the News-Record.
Officially, being an elite runner in the Army didn’t move Cheseret’s citizenship process along any faster than the process faced by any other foreign-born person joining the ranks. A revised section 328 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (explained here) states that a legal permanent resident who honorably completes a year of military service can file for citizenship.
WCAP participants are not all Kenyans. In the women’s race at the 2012 U.S.Olympic Marathon Trials, Cap. Kelly Calway was 25th in 2:37:10 and Maj. Emily Potter 40th in 2:30:55. WCAP also placed bobsled and luge athletes on the American team for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and has active boxing and wrestling teams.