'Lost Boy' Yuot runs to Div. III glory

Updated: June 6, 2006, 12:53 PM ET
By Joseph Santoliquito | Special to ESPN.com

CHESTER, Pa. -- The journey will always be a part of Macharia Yuot. No matter where he goes, or what he does. Yuot, one of "The Lost Boys of Sudan" and the subject of an ESPN.com story in April, will always carry with him the memory of his walk to freedom as a 9-year-old across nearly 1,000 miles of the largest country in Africa.

So when the Widener University senior revealed the grand plan for last week's Division III national track and field championship at Benedictine University in Lisle, Ill., he could be excused for ignoring the odd looks and the "Are you crazy?" remarks. The plan: Enter and win the 10,000-meter run on Thursday, the 3,000-meter steeplechase on Friday and the 5,000-meter run on Saturday.

His threshold for pain would be tested again.

And he passed the test, again. Yuot became the first track and field athlete in Division III history to win three NCAA championships in as many days. He took the 10,000 meters in 30 minutes, 26.99 seconds on May 25, the 3,000-meter steeplechase on May 26 in a Widener-record 9:03.88, and the 5,000 meters in 14:48.96 in near-90-degree heat on May 27.

Yuot is believed to be the first runner in NCAA history to win all three distance races at a single national track and field championship, although NCAA spokesperson Gail Dent was unable to confirm it.

"When I first talked to people about running those three events," Yuot said, "they thought I was nuts. But once I won that 10,000, that made things very easy. The 10,000 started everything. I didn't even think about the pain. The last race, the 5,000, was the most difficult. But it wasn't because of the pace of the race. It was very hot, but I didn't care how tough it was.

Macharia Yuot
Widener UniversityMacharia Yuot prepped for his three Div. III wins by running cross country last fall.
"In distance races like those, everyone goes through the pain. It's all the same, and it's about not giving up. I wasn't going to give up. My way of dealing with it is trying not to think about the pain you go through. When you think about the pain, it makes you feel it. You have to deal with it. But my past, I think, did help me."

The impetus to enter all three events came from Widener track coach Vince Touhey, just after Yuot returned to Chester from the Stanford Invitational on March 31 with a time of 29:50 in the 10,000 meters. That was 30 seconds slower than his pace in that race last year, the first time Yuot had run slower since he arrived at Widener.

Disappointed, Yuot called Touhey. Coach and athlete had a heart-to-heart.

"That's when we set the goal to attain the three at the national championships," Touhey said. "I wanted Macharia to realize that I didn't lose any confidence in him, and I still had great faith in his ability. When we set out to win three, especially those three events, it was more of an instinctive response than a rational one. But I never forced a goal on Macharia. He ultimately had to set the goal himself. I had a gut feeling he could do it."

Yuot's next goal is even bigger: the Olympic Games. But because he isn't a United States citizen, he cannot compete in the U.S. Track and Field championships. He also fears retribution if he returns to run for Sudan, a nation embroiled in civil war between Muslims in the North and Christians in the South. On the international scene, he is a runner without a country for which to run.

At least now, along with his ordeal as a "Lost Boy," Yuot, a nine-time Division III All-American, can carry with him the memory of being named the NCAA Division III Men's Track & Field Athlete of the Year this spring, as well as the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Mideast Region Outdoor Track and Field Athlete of the Year.

"Watching Macharia do what he did, you just have a feeling of being grateful," Touhey said. "Macharia knows how to suffer. It's a great gift all distance runners have to have."

Joseph Santoliquito is the Managing Editor of RING Magazine and a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.