Micah Chelimo first drew breath 5,584 feet above sea level, in a village nestled between fields of red earth and velvety- green escarpments in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley.
Now, 8,290 miles from his birthplace, Micah (pronounced MEE-kah) has successfully concluded his quest for a UAA bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.
Micah’s passion for using engineering to help others, his talent for running and a full athletic scholarship propelled him to that degree, and Micah achieved lofty goals. He won medals and demolished records just about every time he competed on a track or trail, and earned four national championships during his career at UAA. He also earned accolades for his academic achievements.
“I like telling people UAA’s my home,” Micah said. “Because of my scholarship, I had no problem while I was a student—my books got paid for, tuition, even board. I finished school without any debt.”
Micah was poised to compete in yet another national track and field competition in May when he ruptured his Achilles tendon while running in the 3,000-meter steeplechase event at a meet in Oregon. Three months later, Micah started his rehabilitation on a freshly installed underwater treadmill at UAA’s Alaska Airlines Center’s sports medicine facility.
He’s looking ahead, with plans to run professionally, gain work experience at an engineering firm, and return to UAA to earn a master’s degree in project management.
“Micah Chelimo is a champion in every sense of the word,” UAA Athletic Director Keith Hackett said. “His athletic success, his drive to earn his degree, and his humble view of his success are exemplary. We could not have a better representative of our university and our athletic program.”
Running has always inspired Micah’s life. He raced other boys, dashed out on errands for his mother, and ran eight miles a day, five days a week—two miles to school, two miles home for lunch, two miles back to school and two miles home in the thin air of Kenya’s mile-high elevation.
Micah’s mother, a subsistence farmer, fed her youngest son and his two brothers and three sisters the maize (corn) and vegetables she cultivated, eggs from her chickens, meat, and milk from cows, sheep and goats she raised. His father had fought in World War II as a King’s African Rifles officer, part of a multi-battalion British colonial regiment. To Micah, he seemed more like a grandfather. He died of malaria when Micah was 8 years old.
“My mom was the one who took care of me, brought me up, valued education,” he said. “She didn’t go to school but she was able to inspire us, ensure we all went to school. I’m the only one who went to college.”
His mother traveled to Alaska from Kenya for her son’s college graduation, and stayed as long as she could to help him after he injured his ankle.
Last summer, Micah worked as an intern for the Alaska Energy Authority and he’s now awaiting government paperwork that will enable him to seek an engineering job here in Alaska. The discipline and tenacity he’s exhibited on the track, in his engineering studies, and during his months of injury rehabilitation will translate well when Micah enters the business world.
“I’ve come to think I’ve learned a lot of things through running,” he said. “I can relate everything to running. I want to push my limit, go look for that pain. Sometimes you just have to spend some more hours, miss something, sacrifice a weekend to studies or to run 30 minutes. Down the line you’ll start seeing benefits. Some people miss that part. We want everything now. You forget the process you need to achieve.
Micah says if there were one message he could give to his alma mater, it would be comprised of four words: “Thank you
“I graduated with the best degree I could ever imagine,” he said. “Without this scholarship, I don’t know that I would have received the same kind of education. Even though I’ve graduated, I’ll still be thinking of UAA, how we can help students enjoy their lives as students. That’s something that’s in my heart.”
Story courtesy of Tracy Kalytiak, UAA