Student-athlete to soldier-athlete

Oklahoma State's Shadrack Kipchirchir (in orange) is the No. 10 seed for the 10,000 meter final. Courtesy of Clay Billman

EUGENE, Ore. -- Twelve days after distance runner Shadrack Kipchirchir runs the final collegiate race of his career at the NCAA Track & Field Championships in Eugene, Oregon, he'll trade in his Oklahoma State singlet for army fatigues and report for basic training.

He'll spend the next nine weeks in basic combat training, followed by advanced individual training, which could last up to another nine weeks depending on his military occupational specialty.

With all that on his mind, it's not a stretch to believe that he'd be feeling nerves and anxiety leading up to BCT. The discipline he learned through distance running has prepared him for most of the army training, but there's one aspect that worries him.

"The push-ups," he said with a smile, pointing at his thin, distance-runner biceps. "Look at my arms."

Kipchirchir, who isn't an American citizen yet, said the decision to join the armed forces was an easy one. The United States gave him a chance to prosper outside of his home country of Kenya, which he left in order to attend college in the U.S. That, he said, was reason enough to serve.

"It's the kind of guy he is," Oklahoma State track coach Dave Smith said. "He always tries, in his own way, to pay back what he feels he has been given."

In October, Kipchirchir was inspired to enlist by his older brother, Nicholas, who also came to the U.S. from Kenya and now serves in the U.S. Army. Kipchirchir had the idea he'd be serving overseas, but a Facebook chat with a friend who was serving in Afghanistan changed his army course.

His friend told him about a program within the military called the World Class Athletes Program. The program gives military members a chance to represent the U.S. in elite-level national and international competitions by providing them the training and support.

The program will move Kipchirchir from student-athlete to a soldier-athlete with the goal of representing the United States at the Olympics.

After Kipchirchir finishes his advanced training, he'll report to Fort Carson, Colorado, where he'll be given his first assignment. Then he'll be transferred to Beaverton, Oregon, to begin training with his new coach, Maj. Dan Browne. Browne is a 1997 graduate of the United States Military Academy who represented the U.S. and WCAP in the 2004 Athens Olympics, competing in the 10,000 meters and marathon.

Since the program began in 1997, 55 soldier-athletes have competed in the Olympics. WCAP had 10 soldier-athletes in Sochi, Russia, for the 2014 Olympics and Paralympics, competing in everything from sled hockey to luge to bobsled.

Each soldier-athlete is also an active service member and is expected to stay up-to-par with non-WCAP military members. On top of Olympic training, Kipchirchir will be expected to continue any and all military training.

Once Kipchirchir's collegiate racing career is over, he'll start preparing for that, but first he has a 10K run at one of the most historic tracks in the world.

The men's 10K final (Wednesday at 7:15 p.m. on ESPN3) could shake out to be a three-man sprint for the top of the podium among Kipchirchir, Texas Tech's Kennedy Kithuka and Oregon's Edward Cheserek. Kipchirchir is seeded 10th overall, but had the NCAA's fastest time this season (29:08.64) until Kithuka (29:05.77) and Cheserek (29:06.99) both ran faster in their preliminary championship races.

For Kipchirchir, who said he doesn't feel pressure when he races, it's just one more 10K before he starts another adventure -- one that he hopes includes active, overseas military service at some point after his competitive running career is over.

"Distance running has given me a discipline," Kipchirchir said. "But I want to have that military background."

And perhaps, a few more push-ups, too.