Kithuka Departs Tech as True Champion|
June 14, 2014
Kennedy Kithuka crosses the finish line as the 2013 NCAA Indoor 5,000-meter Champion at the Randal Tyson Indoor Track Center in Fayetteville, Ark.
by BRITTON DROWN
EUGENE, Ore. - Sometimes it takes something unique, something special to remind us of the true beauty of collegiate athletics. At a period when attention and effort many times is placed outside the games, competitions and student-athletes themselves, it's refreshing when something arrives that puts everything into honest perspective.
In the fall of 2012, Texas Tech received that something. He came in the form of a quiet, exceedingly confident, and yet overwhelmingly likable athlete with Kenyan roots.
His name was Kennedy.
Kennedy ran in his final race as a Red Raider Friday night at arguably the epicenter of U.S. Track and Field. The stage proved immaculate - with spring's final chill engulfing a Hayward Field crowd of more than 10,000. The gun fired, and soon the final race of the evening consumed the stadium with a late back-and-forth battle between Oregon's very own Edward Cheserek and Arizona's Lawi Lalang on the final straightaway.
With a late kick, Lalang pulled ahead in the final 50-meters to win the title while Kennedy, in his red and white Texas Tech jersey, crossed the line with a time of 13 minutes 34 seconds - eighth overall in the race. Quietly, he became the first Red Raider to earn All-America honors in the event outdoors.
It was a humble end to his anything but ordinary career, and shortly after exiting the track raw emotion showed. His eyes watered, but Kennedy's pride served as a roadblock to any tears. This was a champion after all. Maybe not today, but while the media swarmed around a trio of Oregon Ducks and today's NCAA Champion Lalang nearby, he answered questions without breaking down.
This here is where the story of Kennedy Kithuka centers.
"It's not about me," he said. "It all comes from the Texas Tech community, coaches and sports administration. They gave me a lot of support when I got here."
See, throughout his Tech career, one that saw two individual NCAA Championships, six Big 12 Championships and five Texas Tech school records fall to his name, he's never lost touch of sincerity to the sport and the school with which he represents on the track.
Kithuka's career spanned from the 2012 Cross Country season, where he went unbeaten through seven races en route to becoming Tech's first male national champion in the sport, to Friday's race at Hayward Field.
He was central in the Red Raiders' first-ever top-5 finish at the NCAA Indoor Championships. There in Fayetteville, Kithuka took the 5,000-meter title with a brilliant showing, crossing the finish line in just 13 minutes 25.18 seconds - a time that still stands among the all-time collegiate top-10 performances.
Kithuka would go on to redshirt the following outdoor campaign before returning to the track this spring for his final season as a Red Raider. With Lubbock serving as the host of the Big 12 Championships for the first time in five years, the senior saved his most memorable race for his home crowd.
On a pristine Friday evening in front of a standing room only crowd at the Fuller Track, Texas Tech fans got their chance to witness a Kennedy Kithuka championship race.
And he put on a show.
The senior, running in his very first home outdoor meet as a Red Raider, lapped the field twice to bring home his first of two individual Big 12 titles over the weekend. Kithuka scored 20 points in two races as Texas Tech went on to become the first program in six years - and the only among current league members - to celebrate a conference championship on its home track.
Through it all, the conference titles, the individual NCAA Championships, the myriad individual accolades, his demeanor and perspective never wavered.
He always gave thanks. He always centered the conversation on Texas Tech - his school.
That embodies the true beauty of collegiate athletics, and that will be remembered as much as anything as Kennedy departs Texas Tech a champion in more than just track and field.
"I give thanks to them and everybody." he said Friday night. "I will always be a part of Texas Tech, wherever I go."
No, thank you Kennedy.