Miles Ahead

The fastest high school cross country runner in the nation attends St. Benedict's Prep School in Newark.

Cross country champion Edward Cheserek, 18, now a Newark prep schooler, used to run miles to school in his native Kenya.
Photo by Mike Scanlan.

Marty Hannon, a teacher and head cross-country coach at St. Benedict’s Prep School in Newark, didn’t quite know what to expect when he heard that a Kenyan student was enrolling last year. “We knew he was a runner, but we had no idea he was this talented,” says Hannon.

That student is Edward Cheserek, 18, now America’s fastest high school cross country runner. He started knocking down the competition almost from the start with an 8:42:66 indoor 2-mile and a 4:03:29 outdoor mile in his first year of American classes.

In December, he won the National Foot Locker Cross Country Championship—a 3.1 mile race—with a time of 14:52. In January, he dropped his indoor mile time to 4:02:21, setting the U.S. junior record. Running Times magazine named him a Generation Next top runner to watch.

He is the second student—but first runner—to be placed in St. Benedict’s by Stadi za Maisha, a mission that works to provide Kenyans with better educational opportunities. They raised the funds to bring Cheserek from Kenya and worked with the school on paying his tuition, room and board. He lives on campus with about 65 other students.

“The language was difficult at first, but getting much better now,” Cheserek wrote in an e-mail. The best part of coming to America, he added, is “making new friends at St. Benedict’s and in the running community.” 

Cheserek was raised on a Kenyan farm with no electricity or running water. But for a future runner there were advantages. He grew up in the Great Rift Valley, where the altitude is close to two miles above sea level. Higher altitudes help condition the body to do more with less oxygen. 

What’s more, his legs were his only means of transportation, sometimes as far as 60 miles to go to school. “He’d have to run back and forth to school, even in grammar school,” says Hannon. “In high school, he’d run for hours if he didn’t have money for the bus.” 

It’s something his classmates can’t comprehend, says Cheserek. “They are amazed—very different than here.”

Cheserek is still a junior so, under NCAA rules, he can’t talk to colleges yet, but they can talk to Hannon, and he says they are calling. Cheserek says he’s interested in going to college, though he’s “not sure where.”

“If, knock on wood, he stays healthy and continues to improve, he could go to the Olympics someday,” says Hannon. Which Cheserek echos, and more. After college, he’d like a job, the Olympics and to be “maybe a World Champion.”

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