Trip to Africa creates array of opportunities for Ihmels, athletes

Caitlyn Diimig

Corey Ihmels boarded a flight in America, and 18 hours later, not including his layover in Amsterdam, he found himself in Nairobi, Kenya.

Once a year, Ihmels ventures to the Rift Valley in Kenya, which includes Eldoret and Kapsabet as well as Nairobi, to recruit athletes for cross-country and track.

The ISU coach said he may be there for one or two weeks depending on the number of prospects.

“Kenya is known for having the best distance runners in the world,” Ihmels said. “Your odds of getting someone pretty talented are pretty high.”

Athletic power is not the only aspect of a runner Ihmels looks at when recruiting.

“You’ve got to have somebody who has good grades, is a good athlete and wants to come to the United States,” Ihmels said.

Currently, the track and cross-country teams include 10 international athletes ranging from numerous countries in Africa to Canada and Germany as well as others.

Recently, freshmen Edward Kemboi and Edwin Serem were recruited from Eldoret. Kemboi said he remembers seeing Ihmels watch him at practice and is thankful of Ihmels for giving him a chance to run for Iowa State.

Iowa State offers numerous facilities to help athletes grow academically and athletically, which is what Kemboi said he was looking for in a university.

“Kenya usually has some, a little bit of facilities,” Kemboi said. “But it’s not like here.”

Ihmels is allotted a yearly budget from the ISU athletic department, to which he decides a portion that should be used for international recruiting.

The budget number roughly estimates to be less than $5,000 a year, Ihmels said, although it differs from year to year.

Ihmels understands there are those who disagree with the amount of money spent on collegiate athletics, but he said it has its benefits.

“We’re trying to recruit the best student-athletes we can at Iowa State to be successful,” Ihmels said. “Whether they’re from Kenya or Fort Dodge, Iowa, or California, to me it doesn’t really matter. I want to be able to get the best athletes we can on campus.”

Ihmels said that if he could only recruit the best American athletes, he would, but he said many of them want to go to more competitive universities.

For Kemboi, coming to Iowa State presented an opportunity to become a biochemist and reach his goal of working in industrial research back home.

Kemboi said that in Kenya, one either goes to a university or trains for running after high school, but no one has the opportunity to do both like in America.

“When I was in Kenya, I shall only train,” he said. “I wouldn’t go to school after high school.”

An international recruit may take a spot on the team away from an American runner, but many international recruits will never have the opportunity to study in America without an athletic scholarship.

“Everybody thinks America is the land of opportunity — and it really is,” Ihmels said. “These young men and young women that are here are changing their families footprint. This experience is changing their lives.”