One-shoe wonder: Felix Kemboi wins 5K race in surprising turn of events

Lauren Cuddihy is a member of the UAA track and field team.

The UAA track and field team competed in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Championships Feb. 16-17, where one of their own won the 5-kilometer individual title after losing a shoe a couple of laps into the race.

The Seawolves competed on a 200-meter indoor banked track with only six lanes. The entire heat of runners had to merge into lane one and run heel-to-toe.

For the 5K race, runners are not broken down into heats. All 19 competitors run together for 25 laps on the indoor track.

Felix Kemboi, a UAA freshman from Eldoret, Kenya, immediately picked up the pace and took off to the front of the pack. Only five or six laps into the race, he had his heel stepped on and his shoe flew off to the side of the track.

GNAC championships cross 2017.jpg
Felix Kemboi runsin the Great Northwest Athletic Conference cross-country championships in Bellingham, Washington on Oct. 21, 2017. Kemboi is a freshman at UAA who averages a 4:53-mile. Photo credit: WWU Athletics

The incident didn’t affect his race, however, with one foot still in a shoe, the other clad with a bright orange sock.

Teammates, such as senior sprinter Liam Lindsay, were impressed by the situation once they realized what had happened.

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“A few minutes in, I realized that Felix was somehow down to only one shoe. He sat on the leader and when it got close to the end he started to kick,” Lindsay said, “It didn’t seem to affect him as he pulled away from the pack pretty easily.”

Running with only one shoe didn’t stop Kemboi from achieving what he came to do as he won the event.

“I am really happy to have won it with only one shoe, but it was definitely not easy because it caused some issues with my balance. I had to keep running to win for both my school and for myself,” Kemboi said.

Despite the win, Kemboi was not completely satisfied. He finished with a time of 15-minutes and 12-seconds, four seconds ahead of the second place runner. Even with the 4:53 per mile average, Kemboi thought he could do better.

“I feel like that is not [the best I could have done] but it is only the beginning and I still have much more to give,” Kemboi said.

The race was Kemboi’s first time running the track 5K race since he joined UAA’s track team in August, and it was his third-ever race for indoor track and field. Despite the lack of 5K indoor experience, he proved to everyone that it was his race.

Adam Commandeur, a former member of the UAA track team and current volunteer sprint coach, was amused by the entire situation.

“When he lost his shoe, all I could do was laugh. I thought for sure he would drop out. Running in such a tight pack of [18] or so other guys takes some guts. I was waiting for him to get his foot stepped on,” Commandeur said, “it takes a guy with a lot of heart to run over two miles with one shoe on, let alone win the race and not worry about his exposed foot. He wanted the win badly. One of the highlights of the meet for sure.”

In addition to the 5K, Kemboi added a fourth race to his indoor season by competing in and getting second place in the 3K at GNAC Championships.

His freshman year appearance is already pleasing the coaches, including Commandeur.

“Felix is a pretty even-keeled guy. Not much seems to phase him. He works hard in practice and is proving to be a valuable contributor as a freshman. Felix has the potential to be a stud,” Commandeur said.

Kemboi’s collegiate track career is long from over, with four outdoor seasons, three indoor seasons and three cross country seasons left, he will aim to continue his success after already making a notable freshman appearance.

“This is only just the beginning of my career in college and I am looking forward to doing more for myself and progress throughout my college career,” Kemboi said, “I am [particularly] looking forward to the outdoor season, I know that I will perform a lot better than [indoor season].”

As for outdoor, Kemboi and the Seawolves will pick back up in late March for their first meet, hopefully keeping their shoes on this time around.