By Jonathan Gault
August 14, 2015
Sam Chelanga, who won four NCAA titles at Liberty University from 2008 to 2011 and set the collegiate record in the 10,000 meters, became a U.S. citizen today at the Evo A. DeConcini U.S. Courthouse in Tucson, Ariz. Chelanga, 30, moved to the United States from Kenya in September 2006 and is now eligible to represent the United States in international competition, including next summer’s Olympic Games in Rio.
“I love America a lot,” Chelanga said on the phone from Arizona. “[Becoming an American] is everything to me. I live in America and my [son] is American. I pay taxes, but I can do more than that as an athlete. And with citizenship that can become a reality.”
Chelanga, who missed some training earlier this summer due to a stress fracture in his left foot, will make his debut as an American citizen at Sunday’s New Balance Falmouth Road Race. Chelanga was joined at the ceremony by his wife Marybeth, two-year-old son Micah and his father-in-law, who flew in from Massachusetts.
Chelanga won his first NCAA title in 2009, setting the course record of 28:41 at the LaVern Gibson Championship Course in Terre Haute, Ind., and also won titles in 2010 (outdoor 10,000 and cross country) and 2011 (outdoor 5,000). He owns personal bests of 13:04.35 in the 5,000 and 27:08.39 in the 10,000, the latter of which set an NCAA record when he ran it at the Payton Jordan Invitational at Stanford in 2010 in the race where Chris Solinsky famously ran 26:59.60.
Chelanga, who trains in Tucson with coach James Li, said that he will be focusing on the 10,000 for now but that his plans could change between now and next year’s Olympic Trials. Chelanga will be a threat to make the United States team next year. Only two Americans in history, Solinsky and Galen Rupp, have run faster over 10,000 meters than Chelanga.
Chelanga did not grow up a runner, but decided to leave his poverty-stricken village in Kenya’s Baringo County and come to America in search of a better life. He initially enrolled at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey before transferring to Liberty, where he met his wife and achieved great success on the track and in cross country. Today’s ceremony marked the culmination of a long, at times challenging, journey.
“I never worried but it was a tough experience because you didn’t know anything,” Chelanga said. “Your [fate] is in the government’s hands and you don’t have any contact with them unless they contact you. Not knowing killed me sometimes.”
During the ceremony, Chelanga took an oath of allegiance, pledged allegiance to the flag and sang the national anthem before watching a video message from President Obama officially welcoming him and his fellow citizens to America. Chelanga was given the opportunity to say a few words and spoke about how excited he was to finally become a citizen of the country he calls home.
Chelanga will now fly to Massachusetts, where he’ll race at Falmouth on Sunday. LetsRun.com will be there to cover the race and will have more on Chelanga in the days to come.
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