By Daniel Johnson, Sports Editor
Three meets into his senior season, cross county phenom Nicodemus Naimadu injured his right knee. While running at the Oklahoma State Jamboree on Sept. 29, the three-time
national cross country champion from Narok, Kenya fell and eventually had trouble walking, let alone running.
With the injury, he was unsure if he would be able to rehabilitate in time to make history by becoming the first person to win four-straight individual cross country titles. And at times he said he felt despair.
But after five weeks of work, Naimudu says he’s healthy again, and the timing couldn’t be more perfect.
“We’re all breathing a sigh of relief after Monday’s workout,” said head cross country coach Derek Hood. “Seeing him up there with the guys; it was just like old times.”
Naimadu will make his run at history in Joplin, Mo. as the men’s and women’s cross country teams compete in the Division II national championships Saturday.
“Right now I’m really confident that everything is well with my knee,” Naimadu said. “How I am feeling right now with my knee is it looks really better, and when I just focus on the national championships this weekend I can see everything looks good.” But Naimadu has his teammates to thank for getting a shot at history.
With their top runner resting, the ACU men won the Lone Star Conference meet and finished second at the NCAA South Central Regional meet to qualify for the national championships – something Naimadu says he’s thankful for.
“I wanted to run in the [regional meet] but they told me we’re gonna make it,” Naimudu said. “They played a big role to encourage me and give me some confidence when I was having my knee injury and the time they ran for I knew they were the ones who would win.”
But securing a spot in the national race wasn’t the only thing his teammates did.
While Naimadu went through rehabilitation training, he said it was his teammates’ encouragement that helped him persevere.
“The other guys really picked up the intensity and that was reassuring to everyone,” Hood said. “The guys just really focused on being prepared for this national championship and assuming Nic is gonna be there and help us out as well.”
And Saturday Naimadu said he will be relying on his teammates yet again.
Instead of running alone in Missouri, like Naimadu traditionally does, he said he’s going to stick with the other ACU runners for support.
“What I just need to do is run with them, and I know everything is good,” Naimadu said.
In addition to Naimadu’s history shot, the men’s team can make history by winning their second-straight team title on Saturday.
Hood is confident that Naimadu’s rehabilitated knee will not slow him down- he has won three-straight national titles.
“It’d be crazy to assume that Nicodemus is not gonna win the race because he’s such a great athlete and competitor,” Hood said. “Obviously I think it’s gonna affect him, but what affects Nicodemus isn’t necessarily what affects other runners. I think he’s got the potential and he has shown repeatedly that when the race is on the line he can find a way to win.”
And Naimadu is confident that his final meet as and ACU runner will not be a disappointment.
“I can tell you that when I cross the finish line being ahead, that will be my biggest college [achievement] ever.” Naimadu said. “I know it is the last one, but it is the one that means a lot.”