Big 12 Outstanding Female Performer of the Year
“I’m a first-generation college student and it’s something so special to me and so special to my parents.”
Sharon Lokedi never dreamed she would be attending school in Lawrence, Kansas and competing for the Jayhawks’ cross-country team.
Born in Eldoret, Kenya, Lokedi ran to school and back, often times barefoot, but never for sport. It wasn’t until the sixth grade that Lokedi joined her school’s cross-country team and everyone realized that she had a natural talent for the sport.
“Every time I kept running, it just made me happy and feel like I’m getting somewhere. I kept running, kept winning, and it felt so easy. I just kept competing,” she said.
Even as her talent blossomed, Lokedi never dreamt of one day attending and competing for a university in the United States. This was especially true in 2007, when her village was the epicenter of political unrest.
“We lived around different tribes. The leaders from each tribe were fighting; one of them wanted to be elected president. Once that didn’t happen, people started fighting. We lived in the middle of the tribe that was fighting and everything was getting crazy, people fighting and houses being burnt. We lived in the forest for a month, just hiding all the time. We had to keep running; we would stay in a place for maybe a week, and just when they got close, we would go to another place,” she said.
“Her passion for life, her passion for her sport, is great.”
Lokedi, 12-years old at the time, had to step up to take care of her younger siblings and help her mother while the men in her family were gone protecting them. Eventually, the conflict came to an end and the family was able to return home. Lokedi moved on from middle to high school, a boarding school.
“The high school had athletic shoes and some equipment. I ran for three years in high school, until I graduated. The system back there is different – you have to wait for one year after you graduate high school to go to college.
“I wanted to find something else to do. My uncle and I went online and looked at it, and then I went to a training camp. I started filling out the forms and just kept hoping that this would go through,” she said.
Kansas offered Lokedi a scholarship and she boarded a flight to Lawrence from Kenya, never having previously left her home country.
“I cried, kept crying. I didn’t know if I was crying because I’m happy or because I’m leaving home. Coach picked me up from the airport and everything was just different. I was freezing,” she said.
Distance coach Michael Whittlesey, who was there to greet Lokedi at the airport, reflect upon her first practice with the team.
“She took off and started running with the guys. She didn’t go as long as she had talked about going, she went even further. We had to actually stop her and get her on the bus. There were a lot of communications that we had to work on for her to understand. She understood English very well, but it was still just the nuances of everything,” he said.
The life change allowed Lokedi to rely heavily on her teammates, who ended up becoming her great friends. As her relationships grew, she also blossomed as a competitor. Last season, she turned in the best performance by a Kansas runner at the NCAA Championships in over 50 years. She is also the first female Jayhawk to win the Big 12 Championship and was nominated as Kansas’ Big 12 Female Athlete of the Year.
“It’s crazy, the way things are happening. I didn’t know how one day I would be here. Every day I wake up in the morning and I’m just like ‘Oh, wow.’ They support me in every way and I just didn’t know I would ever get those things. It’s miraculous. I’m just thankful for everything,” she said.
Off the track, Lokedi is focused on earning her degree and becoming a college graduate. She’s looking to set an example for her younger sisters and for others in her village in Kenya and wants to prove to her loved ones back home that everything is possible with determination and hard work.
“I’m a first-generation college student and it’s something so special to me and so special to my parents. I feel like one day when I go back there, I’ll just be able to tell them how it took me to be here, and how everybody can do it. It’s one of the motivating things that keep pushing me each and every day. I’m proud of being an example to others,” she said.
Of her future, Whittlesey says that the possibilities – both on and off of the track – are endless; he says Lokedi embodies the qualities of a champion.
“She’s a pleasure to work with because she is so motivated and she is one of the sweetest individuals you’ll ever work with. She’s a team player. Her passion for life, her passion for her sport, is great. She’s willing to ask for help, willing to go that extra yard. She’s going to be there every step of the way, for anybody that is in her circle, and that to me is what a Champion for Life is all about,” he said.