New Jersey

Former NJ high school star vying for New York Half Marathon victory

Edward Cheserek grew up in Kenya, showed an exceptional talent for running and ended up with a scholarship to St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, where he broke several state high school records and gained national recognition.

Now 29 and several years away from winning a record 17 NCAA titles at the University of Oregon, Cheserek is focused on longer runs and looking for a decisive victory Sunday at the New York Half Marathon.

Cheserek finished second in last year’s NYC Half, just seven seconds behind the winner, on a 13.1-mile course that begins in Brooklyn, crosses the Manhattan Bridge, climbs FDR Drive and crosses Times Square before a final stretch to Central Park.

“As you approach Central Park, that’s when it started to get really tougher,” Cheserek said in a phone interview from Kenya, which remains his home country amidst… a protracted effort to obtain US citizenship.

The winner of Sunday’s half marathon will receive a $20,000 prize from race organizer New York Road Runners. More than 25,000 athletes are participating in the NYC Half, including 3,500 from New Jersey, organizers said.

Cheserek is among the most high-profile success stories at St. Benedict’s Prep, a Catholic K-12 school in Newark where he arrived in 2010 with only the clothes he was wearing and an empty backpack. In 2011, he won a five-kilometer (3.1-mile) race in 14 minutes and 20 seconds, one of the fastest times in high school in that category.

Two years later, he set a national record in a two-mile run.

Edward Cheserek, then a 16-year-old high school sophomore, is seen cleaning a blackboard in 2010 while attending St. Benedict’s Preparatory School in Newark.

“As a runner all you can say about him is wow. He’s incredibly talented,” said the school’s longtime principal, Reverend Edwin Leahy.

Cheserek won 17 NCAA championships in cross country, indoor track and outdoor track, including the 5,000 meters and 3,000 meters at the 2017 NCAA Indoor meet. His 17 titles broke a record that stood since 1982, according to the NCAA.

Along the way, he acquired a nickname: “King Ches”.

“When I race I just focus on the race and how I can finish strong and at the right speed,” Cheserek said.

When not in Kenya, Cheserek also lives in Flagstaff, Arizona, an elite runner’s paradise that offers high-altitude training.

“In all my years of coaching, he’s definitely the most talented,” said Andy Powell, his coach in Oregon, who continues to work with him.

Cheserek’s unlikely trip to New Jersey has garnered a lot of attention over the years. He grew up in Kenya, running barefoot to school, eight miles a day, until eighth grade.

He ran out of necessity, but his passion at the time was football, he recalls.

“Running wasn’t my thing,” he said.

But his father encourages him, aware of the opportunities available to runners in Kenya.

“One day, my father decided to take me to a training camp,” he says.

He ended up with a reference to St. Benedict’s, which dates back to 1868. The college preparatory school was featured in a 2014 documentary, “The Rule,” highlighting its scholarship program and graduation rate. pupil.

“I have a lot of good memories there. Good people have supported me throughout my career. I stay in touch with a lot of people in New Jersey,” Cheserek said.

Leahy stayed in contact with him.

“He’s a humble, super talented guy. He had the kind of personality that could turn bad days into good days for any guy he met,” Leahy said.

Then-St. Benedict’s Prep student Edward Cheserek celebrates after crossing the finish line to win the High School Boys Medley Distance America Championship in the 118th race of the Penn Relays at Franklin Field in Philadelphia.

Cheserek was just 16 when he told the Star-Ledger in 2010 that his goal was to become an American citizen and compete in the Olympics.

Citizenship, however, proved elusive.

He attended the University of Oregon on a student visa but, after graduating, was unable to obtain a green card, The New York Times reported in 2018. He eventually earned a P1 visa, known as the Athlete and Artist visa, allowing his share. -time of residence in the United States

“Everything kept crashing. In a way it seems really easy for some, more complicated for others,” Powell said of the green card process.

Cheserek said he plans to announce his first marathon soon. He is engaged to Sharon Lokedi, who won the New York City Marathon in 2022.

“I think he can be one of the best in the world in the marathon,” Powell said.

The NYC Half – its title sponsor is United Airlines – will feature athletes from 17 different countries, including 19 Olympians, 11 Paralympians and seven former champions of the event, making it one of the most diverse areas of the history of the race according to the organizers.

In addition to Cheserek, the men’s open division includes two-time US Olympic medalist and Chicago Marathon champion Galen Rupp. Also in contention are two Ugandans – two-time Olympic and four-time World Championship medalist Joshua Cheptegei and Olympic medalist and two-time world champion Jacob Kiplimo – and two former NYC Half winners, Ben True of the United States and Belay Tilahun of Ethiopia. .

Last year’s winner, Rhonex Kipruto, also from Kenya, did not show up.

“I wouldn’t bet against him,” Powell said when asked about Cheserek’s chances on Sunday.

Cheserek said he was doing 90 to 100 miles a week in preparation.

He finished last year’s NYC Half in one hour and 37 seconds, a pace of 4:38 per mile. That average finish time for the entire racetrack was two hours and 10 minutes.

While ordinary runners can’t approach his skill level, he offered some advice on how training provides benefits that transcend sport.

“I always tell people, keep running. It’s not about competition. If you run, you focus on other things. Don’t stop running,” he said.

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Rob Jennings can be contacted at [email protected]


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