When Dr. Scott Trumble called Victor Kiprop Kiprotich into his office on Wednesday Feb. 5 and asked him how important running is to him, he said “very.”
Being born and raised in Kenya, Kiprop, a sophomore nursing major at Goshen College, grew up running.
Kenya is known as a breeding ground for many of the most successful distance runners in the world. “We all ran back and forth from school, to the stores and on errands around home,” Kiprop said.
Kiprop remembers running into elite athletes on the roads near his home on a daily basis. “It was so common that it wasn’t a big deal,” he said. But seeing them also made him think. They were running to improve their lives, and he could too.
“Running in Kenya is more of a business than a sport,” said Kiprop. He remembers when he decided to give the running life a try too.
“I faced criticism, discouragement and disappointment. Any athlete I tried to run with was definitely faster than me,” he said.
He didn’t let that stop him from pursuing the sport and the opportunities it could provide.
“I had faith that running would give me a place in the world,” he said. “But it gave me more than that, it gave me a home. Running brought me to Goshen College where I gained relationships and a community.”
Three hours after arriving in the United States, Kiprop met the Goshen College cross country team and went for a run with them.
“My shoes were old and torn but my coach, Rustin Nyce, gave me his own running shoes only to get me two extra pairs of shoes a week later,” he said.
Training with his new team, Kiprop felt he was living his dream.
“We all had new Nike shoes and Garmin watches,” he said. “I was not any different from the elite athletes in Kenya!”
Last fall was Kiprop’s second season running cross country.
“My team committed to being the best of ourselves in all the aspects of our lives, on and off campus,” he said.
Their goal was to make it to Nationals.
But Kiprop’s season didn’t go as he planned. He started to suffer from pain in his feet partway into the season. He was told to take a few days off and change up his shoes, but nothing seemed to alleviate the pain.
“I was going through my running photos sometime back,” he said, “and I realized I ran all the different races in different shoes.”
Kiprop wanted to go to Nationals with his team so bad that he pushed through the pain. But as the season progressed, his races got slower and slower.
When his team qualified for Nationals, “I felt like it was the beginning of my athletic victories,” he said, “but maybe it was the end.”
Last Wednesday, Kiprop received the results from X-rays that had been taken of his feet. They revealed tarsal coalition (chronic dislocation) of both his ankles.
Kiprop remembers the sorry look on Dr. Trumble’s face when he gave him the news: “Kiprop, you are at your breaking point and if you continue running, you will cause more harm than good. The best intervention at this point is for you to cease running forever.”
“That simple phrase stopped my world for a moment,” Kiprop said.
Less than a week after his diagnosis, Kiprop shared his story with the cross country team at their annual awards banquet.
He had tears in his eyes as he said, “I’ve never won any athletic championship, I’ve never had any record, but through running I won hearts, I earned respect, I connected to people and inspired the few I did. That’s now the past better part of life we’ve left behind.”
“It’s always been my goal to run to make a change in my life, my family, my community and my team,” Kiprop told his team. “I want to urge all of us to focus on giving the best of ourselves in whatever we do.”
Rustin Nyce, head coach of the cross country program, pledged the team’s ongoing support as Kiprop faces the next steps of diagnosis and treatment. He also reminded Kiprop that he will always be a runner until he chooses not to be.
Before Kiprop went to the doctor on Wednesday, he made time for a few quick miles. He had no idea that those might be the last miles he would ever run.
“Hopefully I can get another chance to run again,” Kiprop said. “If not then maybe what I had will have been the only chance. I’m glad I never stopped, I didn’t quit or give up.”