Both the men’s and women’s cross country teams broke records at the Great Lakes Challenge in Grand Rapids last weekend.

The top five runners on the women’s team broke the school record set in 2002 with a time of 97.44 (scored by adding together the finishing times of the top 5 GC finishers), breaking the previous record of 99.06. The group was made up of Annika Fisher, Naomi Richer, Summer Cooper, Stephany Claudio, and Ariana Perez Diener. 

On the men’s side, Nelson Kemboi broke the Goshen College record for the fastest 8km (5 mi) run with a time of 24.38 minutes, surpassing the record set by Ryan Smith in 2016 by 2.9 seconds.

The men’s team also notched their place in the school record book with the third fastest team time. Kemboi led the way followed by Jackson Steinmetz, Jordan Garlinger, Manny Villanueva, and Liam Elias with a time of 2:09:59.

Runners on both the men’s and women’s teams have been improving their personal times all season. Nelson finished within the 25th minute at the past two cross country meets.  

“I was proud of myself,” Kemboi said, in reference to his school record. “Although I wasn’t surprised considering the practice and hard work I put in it.” 

Fisher, who finished first on the women’s team in Grand Rapids, clocked a time of 18.46 minutes, setting her own personal record.  

“It was evident how much mental preparation she devoted to this race,” said Anna Mast, assistant coach. “That kind of passion is something a coach can’t force to happen.” 

Hosted by the NAIA (National Association for Intercollegiate Athletics), the Great Lakes Challenge happens once a year. Over half of the nation’s teams compete on this course. 

“It’s the largest NAIA (cross country) event that meets in the US… and it features the top three teams,” said Rustin Nyce, head coach for both the men’s and women’s teams. This year, 16 nationally ranked teams participated in the race.  

It is moments like the Grand Rapids race that inspire Nyce and Mast. 

“Running can feel like an individual sport,” Mast said. “But both teams have come together and shown what a difference having the support of your teammates can do.”

Nyce noted the synergy teammates have on and off the field. “They enjoy each other…that’s inspiring [in] itself.” 

Kemboi’s running started after graduating high school in Kenya. He wanted to continue his education, but he didn’t want to do it in his country. 

“Dad told me,” he said, “‘Son. The only way you can study abroad is securing yourself a scholarship, and the only way is running.’”

Kemboi did that. He trained for cross country even though he had never stepped in running shoes before. It didn’t take long for him to love running. 

“If you want to be the best runner,” Kemboi said, speaking from experience. “Simply be in love with it.”  

The men’s cross country team has qualified for nationals in 2014, 2019, and 2020. Nyce believes that the women’s team is on track for getting into nationals as well.   

Kemboi has two more seasons left before graduating from Goshen College and plans to break his own record again. He also strives to maintain his conference title from last year. After college, Kemboi has another goal. 

“I’m planning to compete in the 2024 Olympics,” he said. 

The Leafs are back in action at the Crossroads League Championship on November 5th.