Record-setting University of Central Arkansas track and field athlete Edward Limo is passing up his final semester of eligibility this spring to enlist in the United States Army.
On the surface, that may not seem like a monumental decision. Look a little deeper, however, and it is actually a fascinating life choice. To understand the decision, you have to understand Edward Limo.
For the first 20 years of his life, running was something completely foreign to Limo, who grew up in a village outside of Eldoret, Kenya, situated in southwestern part of the south African country, close to the border with Uganda. Limo did not grow up running like many boys and girls in his country. No one in his rather large family of 11 was a runner. There were no runners, or athletes at all for that matter, in his village of 600 people.
“Oh no, I think we are not athletic at all,” the soft-spoken 25-year-old said of his family. “Nobody had ever done it. I graduated high school in 2006 and had never run before.”
Another thing no one in his family had ever done was attend college.
“When my two older brothers and two older sisters finished (high school), my family couldn’t afford to send them,” said Limo, the middle child of nine. “I finished high school in 2006, and we had no means of going to college. My family could not afford it, so I stayed home for two years and didn’t do anything.”
Limo said an uncle and a friend and his daughter came to him and suggested running as a way to earn a college scholarship in the United States.
“I told him I had never run before,” he said, “my family had never run before and I didn’t think I could do it. He told me nobody has ever tried.
“When he told me that, it changed all my perspective. Then I say, well, I’m going to try.”
Limo went to a training facility about 100 miles away, but it did not go well to start. “It was really hard for me,’ he said. “I used to get last, girls used to beat me. I thought about quiting the first month. Two girls used to beat me every time I showed up for a race or competition. Then I really felt discouraged.
“I wanted to go home, but I didn’t know what to tell them... a girl beat me? It was kind of embarrasing. I decided to keep it up and after two months I was catching up. I was able to beat all the girls. They put me now in another group, guys but the slower guys. The competition was very good. But I kept moving up, I did really good. From this group I moved up to another group. I got better and better.”
With the running part moving along on schedule, the next goal was catching the attention of a school, any school, some 8,000 miles away in the United States.
“I didn’t get in school for like a year, trying this way. Then one day, this coach came to Kenya to see my friend that was there. I was at home, I saw this white man outside and I thought, I need to go see who this is. I talked to him and he happened to be the coach. I told him about myself and my (running) times. He told me he really wished he could help, but he was coaching at a school in New Mexico and they only had a girls team.”
The coach told Limo he had coached previously at Colby Community College in Kansas and he knew the coaches there and would send them an email on Limo’s behalf.
“One day, out of the blue moon, I received an e-mail from the coach at Colby,” Limo said. “He said the other coach talked really good about me and he was interested. He wanted to know if I was interested, and I told him I was very, very interested.”
The next hurdle was obtaining a visa to even be allowed to travel to the states.
“The process is very hard in Kenya,’ said Limo. “I went to the embassy and there were 13 of us there that day. Only three of us got visa.”
With that out of the way, it was time for Limo to leave Kenya for the first time in his life.
“My first entry to the United States was New York City,’ said a laughing Limo. “I was like, Oh my gosh! I’m from small village, and everything was so big. How am I going to live here?”
Luckily for Limo, Colby, Kan., is not New York City. The only barrier to overcome there was the weather, in both summer and winter.
“The weather in my village is always 65 or 70 degrees,’ said Limo. “The hottest is like 75. The first time it reached 100 degrees in Kansas, I felt like it was 1,000 degrees. Then they told me it will snow this winter. I had never seen snow. I was asking people every day, when is it going to snow, and they’d say soon... when is it going to snow... soon.
“Then one day it snowed. I was so very excited, outside playing in the snow like a little kid. I didn’t sleep very well that winter because it was so cold.”
Limo survived the weather in Kansas and ran well enough in his two seasons there to attract the attention of several four-year schools, including the likes of Oklahoma State, as well as Southland Conference members Sam Houston State and McNeese State.
“(UCA assistant coach) Coach Beau (Theriot) was the first coach to talk to me at the regional meet when I was getting ready to graduate,” said Limo. “Coach Beau was a really nice guy and I liked talking to him so I wanted to come to UCA.”
That decision has been beneficial for both Limo and UCA. In fewer than two years running for the Bears, Limo set several school records in both cross country and track and helped the Bears to two NCAA Regional appearances in cross country.
“I’ve had a really good working relationship with the team here, and the coaches,” said Limo. “It’s been a very good time. They have been able to work around my schedule of class, working and training. They have been truly good to me here."
That schedule Limo mentioned, which would overwhelm most students, is a testament to the work ethic that has carried Limo through his first 25 years.
A perfect example came last August, when the UCA athletic department was hosting its annual Bear Nation Celebration, a banquet recognizing the year’s best in athletics. Limo, who works on campus for Aramark food service, was busy doing prep work in the Farris Center just hours before the event.
“Edward had not told his Aramark supervisors that he really should be attending the event, and in fact had been nominated for two of the most prestigious awards of the night,” said UCA sports information director Steve East. “He was up for the Male Athlete of the Year and Male Student-Athlete of the Year. But since he was scheduled to work, that’s what he was going to do.”
A quick conversation with his supervisor was all it took to get Limo sent home to change his clothes so he could attend the event with this fellow UCA student-athletes, and to go on stage with the other top nominees.
“The most amazing thing was, 20 minutes after the banquet was over,” East said, “there was Edward back in his Aramark clothes breaking down and cleaning up after the event. That whole night pretty well sums up what kind of young man Edward Limo is."
As does his most recent decision to become a member of the United States Army.
Limo, who has a 3.0 grade-point average while studying health science management at UCA, was contacted about joining the Army as a interpreter, or language translator.
“They select internationals with special skills,’ said Limo. “I speak Swahili, and that is what they needed. I knew someone that had gone before and that’s how they contacted me.”
Limo left UCA this week for eight weeks of basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, then to Fort Lee, Virginia, for nine more weeks of training. Then the big payoff.
“In March, after my nine weeks of training, they will swear me in as American citizen,” said an emotional Limo. “Then I’ll be able to serve for the United States. That is the opportunity I really needed to be able to help my family back home. They will pay for my school and when I receive basic salary, I will be able to help my brothers and sisters go to school.”
That family includes two older brothers, two older sisters, as well as two younger brothers and two younger sisters. Limo is trying to convince the younger ones to try the running thing.
“No one believed I could do it. My grandmother up to now does not think I can run,’ said Limo, laughing again. “A lot of people tried to discourage me, told me I should do something else. But I didn’t listen to them. I said I’m going to try. If I fail, that is when I will know I can’t run.”
Theriot sees no failure in Limo’s future.
“Ed is a heck of a good kid, with great academics, great work ethic, great leadership abilities,” said Theriot, also a former UCA runner. “He is the model of what every college coach wants their kids to be. We’ve been blessed to have him here. We hate to lose him but we’re extremely proud of what he’s going to do.”