By Bob Kelley, retired RLC Sports Information Director and 2012 Hall of Fame inductee
INA, Ill. (April 8, 2019) - From an early age, there has been little doubt it has been a means to an end for the heartfelt, serious-minded Pasca Cheruiyot Myers.
The question was never that she was doing something (the means) in order to achieve something else (an end). The debate might be what constitutes the finish line for this native of Eldoret, Kenya, who is now a proud American citizen.
Did she run to get an education? Or did she chase after a college degree to break the tape first?
The answer: Both of the above.
But before continuing with an explanation, it is worth noting . . . Six National Junior College Athletic Association individual titles, an Indoor Track and Field Team title and 10 All-America distinctions in just 1 1/2 seasons for Rend Lake College in 2007-08 were the means to another end for Cheruiyot: Induction with the 20th Annual Class into the RLC Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday, April 20.
Pretty impressive for someone who had never seen snow until embarking off a plane for the first time in St. Louis, then saying “No” when she should have said “Yes” to her misunderstood coach, Denny Myers, who she would much later say “Yes” to in regard to a more meaningful question.
Back to the original point . . .
Kenyan children do not run before they walk; it just seems that way to the rest of the world. High school freshmen are required to run each morning their first semester. Because an older sister, Rose, was a two-time Olympian distance runner – the ’96 Cross-Country Silver Medalist – Pasca Cheptanui Cheruiyot was encouraged to join and train with the Moi Girls Kaopcherop team.
A fourth-year teammate was Sally Kipyego, who had represented her country and finished eighth in the 2001 World Junior Cross-Country Championships. She told the newcomer of her plans to attend college in the United States on a scholarship which would pay for her education. (Kipyego would become a nine-time NCAA All-American for Texas Tech before graduating in 2008.)
“Sally encouraged us to work hard in school because good things were ahead of us,” recalled Cheruiyot, who had witnessed considerable suffering of those around her growing up and dreamed of one day becoming a caring nurse who could help cure some of those ills. Her father, who encouraged her pursuit of an education, died while she was still in high school; her mother died in 2008.
Cheruiyot enjoyed running those first two years of high school but quit the team the last two in order to concentrate on making good grades and earning a college scholarship.
Despite the layoff, she impressed in 3000-Meter and 5000M time trials in Kenya before American four-year college coaches. But even though she had taken the SAT, many of those schools required a Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) as well, which she could not afford, and there were difficulties with finalizing paperwork through the National Collegiate Athletic Association clearinghouse.
One of those U.S. visitors, former Auburn Coach Pete Watson (now at North Carolina), told a Kenyan colleague about Rend Lake College, where he had discovered another Eldoret product, Elkanah Kibet. “He encouraged me to enroll there, and it sounded enticing,” she told Brian Metzler in his March 2011 article for Runner’s World.
When she first landed in the United States, she quickly discovered what “as white as snow” meant. She also felt the chill of a Midwest winter, which was completely foreign to her, also.
Myers was there to welcome her and asked, “Are you excited to be here?” She did not understand, yet when the question was repeated, answered, “No.” According to the RW article, “Confused, he asked me, ‘Are you happy to be here?’ I understood that and said, ‘Yes.’ ” Cheruiyot did bring some warm clothes and a jacket with her, she informed Myers, “. . . and I eventually got used to the cold weather because, well, I didn’t really have an option.”
She later praised her new-found coach, commenting, “He knew how important education and running were to me and provided a lot of support and motivation.”
In addition to Rend Lake College teammates and classmates, her expanded Southern Illinois family included Pastor Mark Minor, wife Pam Minor, their adult children and the Whittington Church congregation which welcomed her with open arms and loving hearts.
That support and motivation led to All-America status within four months in NJCAA Outdoor Track and Field competition Spring 2007 – second in the 10,000M Run, third in the 1500M and 5000M.
By Fall 2007, the well-adjusted Cheruiyot crossed the finish line first, 14 seconds ahead of her nearest competitor, as Rend Lake College hosted the NJCAA Cross-Country Championships for the first time. Her 5K clocking of 16:13 came as part of a Lady Warrior squad which finished ninth overall but was later awarded Academic All-America status with its composite 3.20 grade-point average.
In early 2008, Myers’ Lady Warriors were Indoor Track and Field National Champions in just their second season, thanks in large part to “Athlete of the Meet” Cheruiyot and her first in the Mile (4:59.63, by :15), first in the 3000M (9:53.50, by :30) and first in the 5000M (17:29.70, by :30), plus a runner-up effort in the 1000M (3:00.84, compared to the winner’s 3:00.40).
All-America kudos in that meet likewise to National Champion teammates Jessica Merriweather (Pentathlon, with a dominating 3,417 points, and High Jump), Kim Beardwood (800M) and Karmyn Clark (Weight Throw) and fellow All-Americas Yolanda King (second, 400M), Ryan Sanders (third, Pentathlon), Nikura Walls (fourth, 800M; eighth, 1000M), Ashley Harris (fourth, 60M), Brittney Castleberry (fourth, 60M Hurdles), Ashley Holms (fifth, Weight Throw; seventh, Shot Put), Omni Wansley (sixth, 60M) and Jennifer Tanui (eighth, 3000M).
The Distance Medley Relay Team comprised of Walls, King, Beardwood and Tanui took third.
Coach Denny Myers and the Lady Warriors staked claim to the team crown on the Eastern Illinois University campus with 121 points, compared to Barton County (KS) and Butler County (KS) at 2-3 with 109 and 88.5, respectively.
Not to be outdone, Coach Brent McLain’s Warriors claimed the male version of the NJCAA Indoor Track and Field crown. The leader of that pack? Kenyan Boaz Lalang, who joins Cheruiyot in the RLC Sports Hall of Fame as a 2019 Induction Class member.
Cheruiyot would cap her three-semester Juco career with Track and Field National Championships Outdoors in the 5000M and 10,000M.
Another highlight of her one RLC Cross-Country campaign came against four-year competitors, when she won the University of Southern Indiana Stegemoller Classic 4K Run.
She established seven Lady Warrior records on the track – Indoors in the Mile, 3000M and 5000M; Outdoors in the 1500M, 3000M, 5000M and 10,000M.
When it was time to leave RLC, she spurned offers from larger schools much to the surprise of Myers to sign with Missouri State University, in part so she could remain relatively close to her Southern Illinois “family.”
Cheruiyot became Individual Cross-Country Medalist in the Missouri Valley Conference and All-Midwest Regional to qualify for her first NCAA Finals.
The urge to compete at an even higher level took her finally to Florida State University, where she was one of the top two runners on back-to-back NCAA Cross-Country National Runner-Up squads, finishing 16th individually in 2009 and 17th in 2010, earning All-American distinction both years.
As a junior she placed fifth Outdoors with a 10K Personal Record 33:23.63 in the NCAA Championships, and as a senior Indoors in 2011 she was ninth in the 5K (16:18.11) and 15th in the 3K (9:33.23).
Cheruiyot was living in Minnesota, working in home care and still running competitively when she and Myers (who left RLC after three years, 2006-09), coaching at Iowa Central Community College approximately two hours away, were reunited by phone.
Myers and his star pupil became coach and pro athlete shortly thereafter. Pasca Jerono Cheruiyot and Myers were married March 21, 2013. (She also has competed as Pasca Cheptanui Myers.)
In her finest year competing professionally, between finishing second in 2013 ($4,500) and then winning the 38th Annual Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, MN, the following year ($11,500), Cheruiyot earned a documented $26,900, according to the Association of Road Racing Statisticians. She has won at least 17 races, ranging from 3K to Half-Marathons (and one Marathon), and was runner-up on nine occasions from 2015-17.
When Cheruiyot signed with Missouri State, she had described Myers as “the most caring and encouraging figure in her athletic and academic experience.”
Her Coach-Husband-Influencer died unexpectedly June 16, 2018 in their hotel room as she prepared to compete. He left behind a coaching legacy which included 10 National titles and 11 National “Coach of Year” citations with Lansing (MI) Community College (1979-2000), two more Indoor titles with the ICC Women in ’12 and ’14 and runners-up twice and seconds with the ICC Men in ’10, ’13 and ’14. He also coached at State University of New York (SUNY)-Plattsburgh and Vincennes (IN) University.
With training at a minimum – 50 miles per week – while engaged in her nursing clinicals and being on her feet on a daily basis, Cheruiyot-Myers returned to the road racing winner’s circle July 4, 2018 in the 8K Fifth Season Races in Cedar Rapids, IA.
“I’m a proud American,” she boasted to the local Gazette newspaper, having become a U.S. citizen the previous September. And she had recently completed Nursing School.