JSU Student Janet Cherobon-Bawcom to Run for Olympic Gold


UPDATE: Janet Cherobon-Bawcom competed in the women's 10,000 meter run in London on August 3 and finished 12th with a time of 31:12:68.

 By Dianeshia Wallace, an intern in the JSU Public Relations Office

As the world turns its gaze to London next week for the opening of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, Jacksonville State University will focus on one of our own.

Janet Cherobon-Bawcom, a nursing student at JSU, will compete in the women’s 10,000-meter run on August 3 as a member of the USA Track and Field team.

Cherobon-Bawcom, who is pursuing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing, is a native of Kapsabet, Kenya. The oldest of eight children, Cherobon-Bawcom only began running in 1998 but she has already made great strides. The story of her run for Olympic gold is one of fate, faith and perseverance. 

It began on a roadside in Kenya, with a chance meeting with Pete Rono. A gold medalist at the 1988 Olympics, Rono stopped to offer Cherobon-Bawcom a ride as she was walking 40 miles to her aunt’s house. Although she hesitated at first, Cherobon-Bawcom eventually accepted the lift. As the two rode along and exchanged small talk, Rono commented that Cherobon-Bawcom looked fit and offered to help her train, even suggesting that she might get a scholarship if she worked hard. Rono dropped her off at her aunt’s house and the two went their separate ways without a commitment. Cherobon-Bawcom realized too late that she didn’t know the name of the kind stranger, only that he was an Olympian. Nevertheless, for six months, his words of encouragement and offer of help stayed with her. Finally, she walked to his town to look for him and perhaps make right the missed opportunity. Miraculously, Rono spotted her walking on the roadside again, recognized her, and the rest is history. After two years of Rono’s coaching, Cherobon-Bawcom landed a scholarship in the U.S., at Harding University in Arkansas.

2005 was a big year for Cherobon-Bawcom. She graduated from Harding University with a Bachelor of Business Administration in Healthcare Management, and won three NCAA Division II national championships in track. This was also the year Cherobon-Bawcom got married. She then moved to Norcross, Ga., where her husband taught and coached. In 2007 they moved to Rome, Ga., where she got an associate degree in nursing at Georgia Highlands College.
In 2010 she was inducted into the NCAA Division II Track and Field Hall of Fame.  In November 2010, she officially became a U.S. citizen.  She says that was quite an awesome achievement because, when she came to the US, she had only $50 in her pocket and everything she owned in a carry-on suitcase. 

Cherobon-Bawcom came to JSU by way of the College of Nursing’s STEP program, which facilitates the transition from an associate’s degree to a bachelor’s degree online. She found out about the program when she was still completing her associate’s degree at Georgia Highland College. A number of her classmates were talking about it and she felt that it would be a great fit for her because she was always traveling. She says, “I’ve completed assignments in Japan, Barbados, several different states, and I’ll have one or two to finish up at the Olympic Village!”

Being in the Olympics has not always been Cherobon-Bawcom’s dream. Instead, the motivation to run was a means to pay for college. 

“I wasn’t very good at the beginning, so the Olympics wasn’t something I really thought about. It was just something to watch on TV,” she recalls.

“I’ve always really enjoyed sports, but running was probably the one I didn’t do in high school,” she adds. “I played basketball, volleyball, field hockey and soccer but I wasn’t really into running. I’m a really competitive person, and I love watching sports, but I didn’t really consider myself an athlete.”

Undoubtedly, the amount of training Cherobon-Bawcom underwent for the Olympics changed that perception. Part of her preparation for the Olympics included altitude training in Flagstaff, Arizona.  Last week, as she was finishing up her training and preparing for her departure for the Games, she described the experience. 

“We are living at 7,000 feet above sea level, so there’s much less oxygen here.  After a month of training here, my body will think that the air in London is just awesome.”  

Cherobon-BawcomShe also ran about a hundred miles a week, just under fifteen miles daily, and did a lot of core and weight training. Cherobon-Bawcom also shared that she was not trying to do anything really different to prepare for this race; she just picked up her pace. 

As for her expectations, she states, “I just want to go out and have another good race.  I am a little concerned that living in the Olympic Village might take me out of my routine a bit, but hopefully I’ll be able to cope.  I’m also a little concerned about the time difference, but I travel a lot for racing, so I’ve got some experience with that.” 

Cherobon-Bawcom hopes to take from this experience the ability to show others that big successes take a long time and a lot of patience. She says, “If I had initially set my goal on going to the Olympics, I might not have appreciated all the little victories along the way.  I like approaching life one day at a time, and trying to do each day just a little better than the one before.  I hope I can just enjoy the realization that a lifetime of little steps can still get someone to the top. It doesn’t have to happen in big steps!”

Cherobon-Bawcom says that running helps her to relieve stress, and it’s fun way to stay in shape. She says, “I would much rather run through some trails or interesting neighborhoods than to go to the gym, or something like that.” She also said, “I also enjoy it because it can be so social. I’ve met so many wonderful friends through running, and it gives me a great excuse to follow one of my other loves, travel.”

Of her expectations for the Olympic Games beyond running a 10k, Cherobon-Bawcom says, “I’d love to meet some Olympians in other sports, and I really want to watch the Olympic road cycling event. I love watching the Tour de France, and I know that some of those guys will be riding in London too.”

When asked what advice she would give hopefuls she said, “I would say to set short term goals that can be reached, not just long term goals. If you only set long-term goals, it will take forever for you to feel like you’ve done anything. Short term goals give you little successes that can keep you moving.”

She credits her success to hard work and dedication. “Obviously it’s played a big role, but not in the sort of suffering and toiling sense. I’ve worked hard to get here, but I’ve had so much fun along the way, that I do forget about the hard work. Plus, each day when I’m sweating and running hard, I just tell myself, “It could be worse, I could have a real job!”

If she has a personal quote or motto for her success, it is this, “Take care of business each day and you’ll lay the foundation for a lifetime of success.”

Watch Cherobon-Bawcom compete live for the Gold in the 10,000 meter women's final on Friday, August 3 at 3:25 p.m. CDT.
(Olympic coverage provided by NBC. Schedule subject to change; please check your local listings.) 

Follow Cherobon-Bawcom on the London 2012 Website

View Cherobon-Bawcom's USA Track and Field Bio

Follow Cherobon-Bawcom on Twitter

About the photos: Janet Cherobon-Bawcom has won the Woodstock 5K overall female division for two straight years. (Trent Penny/Consolidated News Service photos)