Oct. 16, 2009


By Amy Farnum

In only his first few weeks as a Division I cross country runner, Jordan Chipangama is already turning heads as one of the top finishers for the second-ranked Northern Arizona Lumberjacks this season.

Chipangama, a native of Lusaka, Zambia, made his way to NAU via Central Arizona College after being discovered by the junior college’s coach.  He had run cross country just two years in Zambia before competing in the World Junior Championships, but his times were good enough to get noticed by a coach halfway across the world.

“He called me and asked me if I was interested in going to school here (in the U.S.),” said Chipangama.  “I said, ‘why not?’  I was very interested to come here.”

There were a lot of adjusts to make after moving to the Grand Canyon State, but Chipangama was quick to make the transition.
“Everything was different,” said Chipangama.  “The type of weather was different.  I came here and it was 100-plus degrees and back home, the hottest it will get is 85 degrees.  All the food is different is from home.  School was another process, and a big transition.”

At Central Arizona, Chipangama won the JC national championship in the 1,500 meters in the 2009 outdoor meet, and garnered Junior College Regional Runner of The Year in 2008 after leading the school to the 2008 cross country regional championship.
Chipangama captured the attention of the coaches at NAU, but it was not until he ran against the Lumberjacks last year that they started to recruit him.

“We already knew about him, but last year at an event in San Diego, Central Arizona College was there and we raced them,” said head coach Eric Heins.  “Our head track coach at the time was watching the race and he saw this kid coming in behind our No. 1 runner.  After the race, he said we needed to talk to him because he looks pretty good.  The fact that he was right behind our No. 1 runner proved that he could run cross country.”

Since Chipangama had competed against every level at junior college, he came to one of the top cross country programs in the nation with a lot of confidence.

“Even though I was at a junior college, I found the competition was really steep there as well, and I learned a lot,” said Chipangama.  “Moving to a Division I school there was not a big transition.  I just brought my knowledge from the junior college – there are some good guys out there, just like at Division I schools.”

Heins originally thought it might take Chipangama a bit longer to make an immediate impact, but the junior has already won two races this season, taking first in the Aztec Invitational and following it up with a victory and a season-best time of 23:44 at the Cowboy Jamboree versus teams such as No. 4 Oklahoma State, No. 9 William & Mary and Division II’s top-ranked Adams State. 

“I thought Jordan would take a year to develop into a big cross country guy for us and I was looking at him as being our fifth runner,” said Heins.  “But, he’s already shown that he can be one of those top two or top three guys, consistently.  He brings something that our No. 1 runner David McNeill also has – very good foot speed and endurance.  Jordan is the same kind of runner, so now we have two guys in any given workout trading leads and working together to help each other out.”
McNeill will make his season debut at Pre-Nationals on Oct. 17 after representing Australia at the Track & Field World Championships in August.

“It’s who has a better day that day,” said Chipangama of his success in the last two meets.  “It just happened in the last two meets that I stood out.  There are better athletes on the team.  We really don’t know who is the best (runner).”

The 72-team field at Pre-Nationals will be the toughest that Lumberjacks has faced this season as it includes four of the top five ranked teams in nation, and Heins is hoping Chipangama focuses on getting the experience under his belt.

“I don’t think Jordan has had the chance to run in a meet quite this big,” said Heins.  “Going to the Jamboree at Oklahoma State was a good opener to see that many people on the starting line, but going to pre-nationals is spectacular because so many people are lined up and there are so many good runners.  You have to go there and get the experience of running against the best in order to be ready for the actual NCAA Championships in November.”

Chipangama is also motivated to excel in the classroom, and is a pre-med major, who dreams of becoming a doctor.

“He’s very driven and one of the reasons he came here is because of the academic major,” said Heins.  “He’s been really working hard to get caught up as a transfer from a junior college.  Some days he’s not able to train with the team because he’s got so many classes and quizzes and exams to do.  He does lead a very busy lifestyle, but at the same time you can see how well he’s doing in cross country – he’s also that driven in the classroom.”
Last season, the Lumberjacks finished second of 41 teams, and McNeill claimed a second place individually.

“We don’t want to become too big-headed because we’ve been mentioned as one of the best,” said Chipangama.  “We just want to go out there and compete and see what we can do.”

“Our strategy’s this weekend will differ with the men looking to have three to four guys that can finish in the top 25,” Heins said. “We want to put ourselves into that position where we can finish that high.”

The race is being held in Terre Haute, Ind., and will be streamed live on Flotrack.org.  The men’s event starts at 9 a.m. MST.