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Cross Country: Cajun runner from Kenya engineers plan for the future

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Oct. 27, 2017

UL’s Stanley Limoh (358, right) will run in Saturday’s Sun Belt Cross Country Championships and hopes to return to the NCAA Championships. (Photo: JAY PIERRET/RAGINCAJUNS.COM)

Back in Kenya, where his father is a farmer and his mother is a businesswoman, and running is a national obsession, Stanley Limoh had to be a salesman first and foremost.

He wanted to be in the United States, to race and, more importantly, to pursue an education.

He aspires to be an engineer.

“I choose engineering because it’s all about solving problems,” Limoh said, “and, you know, back home there are a lot of problems.”

So perhaps the most-critical pitch to make was the one needed to convince his mom she should let him leave his hometown of Kapsabet — a mountainous agricultural community of fewer than 100,000 located in a region of Africa where the rare Sitatunga antelope are known to roam — and come to America, land of opportunity and chasers of dreams.

It obviously went well, because now Limoh is a Ragin’ Cajuns runner looking to make a second straight NCAA Cross Country Championships appearance while studying mechanical engineering at UL.

The road back to the NCAA meet starts with Saturday’s Sun Belt Conference Championships, where Limoh hopes to avenge last year’s runner-up finish.

But he first tried to sell his plan, Limoh said, “Actually, my mom was like, ‘No.’”

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She wanted him educated at home in Kenya, a developing East Africa country bordered by Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Somalia and the Indian Ocean.

The country has held two presidential elections since August, and this week’s reportedly was marred by boycotts and violence.

So at first Limoh had a cousin who is a teacher in Kenya talk to his mother, and then he invoked the name of a different relative who came to the US, majored in engineering and subsequently worked on some projects back home.

“We talked,” Limoh said, “and after some time she was like, ‘Yeah, do what you want to do.’”

In Kenya, Limoh suggested, opportunities to secure a degree like the one he wants are quite limited. That’s especially so outside the business center and capital city of Nairobi.

Running competitively at the highest level also is a limited-opportunity proposition, as so many of his countrymen are among the world’s best over long distances.

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Two of the last three men’s Olympic marathon champions are Kenyan, as are the 2012 silver and bronze medalists, and the 2016 Olympic silver medalist at 10,000 meters is Kenyan.

Four of the last five New York City Marathon men’s winners are Kenyans.

The reigning Boston Marathon winner is Kenyan, and a Kenyan man won Boston 19-of-22 times from 1991 through 2012.

On one hand, it’s inspirational to be surrounded by so many who are so fast over distance.

On the other, it’s difficult to make a name among the elite.  

So Limoh figured he could utilize one passion, running, to secure a professional understanding of the other, engineering, by leaving Kapsabet.

A family connection helped him land at his first U.S. school, North Greenville University, a small NCAA Division II program in South Carolina.

Limoh studied mathematics and ran track for one year there, but he decided to transfer — ultimately picking UL — to somewhere bigger that offered an engineering degree.

During his first season as a Cajun, he won the Rice and LSU Invitationals, finished second at the 2016 Sun Belt Cross Country Championships and advanced out of the NCAA Regional meet to last November’s 10K NCAA Championships at Indiana State in Terre Haute, Indiana.

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In windy and cold conditions to which he was not accustomed, Limoh placed 193rd there.

Now he hopes to return to the NCAA race, which this year is being held in Louisville, Kentucky, and earn All-America status, which would require a Top 40 finish.

But first there is Saturday’s Sun Belt race at Appalachian State in Boone, North Carolina, where the forecast calls for cold rain and overnight temperatures below freezing, followed by the Nov. 10 NCAA South Central Regional at Texas A&M in College Station, Texas.

“Maybe this year I might get it,” Limoh said of the SBC title that eluded him last season.

He certainly seems on track, having won Sun Belt Male Runner of the Week honors three times this season.

Limoh won the season-opening UNO 5K at New Orleans, won the 6K Azalea City in Mobile, placed third in the 8K Texas A&M Invitational and earlier this month led UL to a team victory by winning the 8K Mississippi College Invitational.

“This kid (doesn’t) like to lose,” said UL assistant track and field coach Aaron Batey, who works with the Cajuns’ distance runners.

The key to Limoh’s success, Batey suggested, is his even keel.

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“Even if he’s having a bad day,” Batey said, “usually I can’t tell.”

When he is, they’re usually few and far between.

“In our sport,” Batey said, “it’s all about consistency.

“How consistent can you be year after year, even week after week, month after month?”

For Limoh, who has managed to remain injury-free, the answer is “very.”

Yet he’s not really accustomed to the distances at which he’s running.

He didn’t run cross country at North Greenville, got his college start on the track at 800 meters and has surprised even himself with what he’s doing now.

“My first 10K,” Limoh said, “I died at the end.

“I learned you are not supposed to push at the start. … You are supposed to conserve something.”

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Another lesson for Limoh has been the one in what it takes to survive in new surroundings.

He hasn’t returned to Kenya since first coming to the States, and would often long for the familiarity of home when initially spending