Oct. 5, 2009


By Amy Farnum

When University of Mary runner Irene Kosgei decided she wanted to study abroad in the United States, even she did not have any idea what kind of experiences she would encounter.

Kosgei, a native of Kapsabee, Kenya, began researching schools online, and was attracted to Dickinson State in North Dakota because of its international studies program.

“I saw they had international students from all over the world,” said Kosgei.  “I was interested in learning things from people all over the world and there was quite a diverse culture.”

A gifted student, Kosgei received a Global Awareness scholarship at Dickinson State, and as a talented long distance runner, she also earned scholarship monies as a member of the cross country team.

After two years at Dickinson, the former Chemistry major wanted to switch her field of study to physical therapy, and transfer to nearby University of Mary, which has a Doctoral program.  As she was applying to the program, UMary’s associate head coach Dennis Newell was also looking for runners and his girlfriend saw Kosgei on a treadmill at a local gym.

“She talked to her and found out she was running quite a few miles,” said Newell.  “I told her to have Irene stop in and talk to me, and we’ll see what we can do.  I called her old head coach from Dickinson State, who I knew really well, and he released her that day.  We then started helping her get into the doctoral program here, and she had a phenomenal grade point average and was a chemistry major, so it was pretty easy to get her in.”

A tireless worker in the classroom evidenced by a 3.96 grade point average, Kosgei has the same type of dedication to her running.

“It’s something that I like to do,” said Kosgei.  “I feel like it is part of me.  The way I like studying, I like to run, too.”

“Irene is probably not the most genetically gifted athlete I’ve ever worked with, but she is one of the hardest workers,” said Newell.  “She does have some talent, and knows her body really well.  She has the desire to compete.  I see her reaching her potential because she eats really well, she takes care of her body, and she’s organized.  It’s been fun to coach her because she listens and she does it.  It’s no-nonsense with her.”

Although Kosgei owns the school record in the 5,000 meters in outdoor track and field, she has a little friendly competition on the squad this year with freshmen Jennifer Agnew and Dakota Wolf, who have been the Marauders’ top finishers in their first three cross country meets.  Kosgei was the team’s second finisher in two meets before missing the last one due to illness.  Newell says her hard work has helped her times drop about a minute over the last year.

“It’s kind of neat because she’s really risen to the challenge,” said Newell.  “She’s more excited that we have eight girls now and are trying to take this to the next level.”

The Marauders are currently ranked ninth in the USTFCCA Division II Central Region poll after winning their first three meets of the year.  It is the highest ranking for the program since the school became a member of NCAA Division II in 2006.

In addition to her responsibilities as a student-athlete, Kosgei is involved in several cultural activities, and works 30 hours a week with mentally challenged individuals as a part of her physical therapy training.  She also is engaged to be married to a former University of Mary runner, who grew up about 50 miles from Kosgei’s hometown in Kenya.  She and her fiancée Bernard plan to be married after Kosgei finishes school.

“It was really a surprise,” said Kosgei.  “I didn’t see it coming, but it happened.  Six-thousand miles away from home, I met someone else from home.”

Newell is incredibly proud of Kosgei, and regards her as an inspiration for himself and his team.

“When people hear the whole story, and they just say, ‘wow’,” said Newell.  “I think about her days, and sometimes I feel pretty lazy.”

Kosgei admits that attending school in the U.S. has been a unique experience, but she is glad she took the challenge.

“It’s helped me widen my scope of thinking,” said Kosgei.  “It’s been different life for me, but I’ve come to appreciate it and learn so much.”

The University of Mary cross country squad competes at the Pre-Central Region meet on Oct. 10.