Fort Carson — Kenyan-born runner Hillary Bor won't be
content with just wearing the red, white and blue at the Olympics.
He's willing to protect his new country, too.
The sergeant in the U.S. Army heads to Rio this month while
his unit — which includes his older brother — is already deployed to
Afghanistan. Bor stayed behind this time, but it could be his turn soon.
That's the reality for Bor and three other runners of Kenyan
descent who've taken a unique path to the Olympics through enlisting in the
Army, earning U.S. citizenship, training with the military branch's World Class
Athlete Program and making Team USA.
They understand the risks. They've pledged allegiance to
America — as soldiers to defend and now as runners hoping to bring home an
"I might be told tomorrow, 'Hey, pack your things,
we're deploying.' I can't say, 'I have the Olympics coming up,' said Army
specialist Paul Chelimo, who's from Iten, Kenya, and earned a spot in the 5,000
meters at U.S. Trials in July. "Whatever happens from now to the Olympics,
into the future, I'm here to follow the orders."
Simply the Army way of life for specialists Leonard Korir
and Shadrack Kipchirchir, Chelimo and Bor.
— Korir hails from Iten, Kenya, and was a two-time NCAA
champion at Iona College before joining the Army in May 2015 as a motor
transportation operator. He qualified in the 10,000 meters at trials.
— Kipchirchir is from Eldoret, Kenya, and was an
All-American at Oklahoma State University. He enlisted in June 2014 as a
financial management technician. He's going in the 10,000.
Also read: Olympian Chukwumerije advises Olympic-bound athletes
— Bor, a 3,000-meter steeplechase runner, arrived from
Eldoret as a teenager, running for Iowa State and entering the military in July
2013. He's one of three Bor brothers in the Army — the other two following his
— Chelimo became a standout at University of North
Carolina-Greensboro, before joining in May 2014. He balances his time between
training and his duties as a water treatment specialist.
"If you have a contract with a big shoe company, that's
predictable — you know what's going to happen," Chelimo explained.
"With the Army, you don't know."
All four are part of the Army's World Class Athlete Program,
which formally began in 1997 and is designed to give soldier-athletes the
support necessary to compete at the highest levels. The program — headquartered
in Fort Carson, Colorado — includes a variety of sports, with more than a dozen
soldier-athletes and three coaches making the trip for the Rio Olympics and
A number bolstered by the Kenyan-raised runners.
"It's a pretty humbling moment to think that somebody
would want to leave their country and come to yours and do so to the degree in
which they would die for something they haven't even been a part of yet,"
said Army Capt. Matthew Hickey, who supervises the program. "WCAP provides
a lot to the U.S. Army — we help train soldiers, help make more ready and
"However, if all hell broke loose, everybody in the
U.S. Army is a soldier first and expected to go deploy and defend the
Bor was nearly sent to Afghanistan in February, when his
unit needed either him or his brother to go.
His older brother, Julius, instantly volunteered.
"It takes courage for someone to raise their hand and
say, 'I'm going to fight for my country.' It's something I admire,"
Hillary Bor said. "He knew I had a chance to make the team."
Growing up, Bor preferred soccer over running, which he
didn't really even take seriously until after high school when his uncle,
Barnaba Korir, a standout at Iowa State, enticed him to come to America and
give college running a try.
Bor followed his uncle's lead to Ames, Iowa, and in no time
unlocked a talent for the steeplechase, a 3,000-meter race around the track
that includes jumping over barriers and into water. Bor became a four-time
All-American at Iowa State.
After graduation, his running career seemed to hit a road
block. So he took an assistant teaching position in New Mexico before joining
the Army not so much as a path to Olympics — he didn't know about WCAP — but
simply because, "I wanted to be American," he said.
Later, his two older brothers followed his lead — Julius
joining him at Fort Carson and Emmanuel at Fort Bliss, Texas.
Bor's running career was rekindled through a timed two-mile
run that's required for soldiers.
He finished in roughly 10 minutes.
"Everyone was like, 'You should compete for the Army
team,'" Bor said.
Not as simple as that, though. First, he had to earn his
place in WCAP by running a qualifying time. It took him nearly three years —
and stepping up his training largely on his own — to earn inclusion.
A typical day for him went like this: Rise at dawn for
training runs with an off-base coach, return to perform his Army tasks and
train again at night.
In May, Bor ran the necessary time to earn a spot in WCAP.
And in July, he finished second at trials to secure his place in Rio.
Fittingly, Bor's first message was to his brother in
"This is not only for my brother, but for my whole
unit," Bor said. "It's for every soldier that's deployed now."For
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