Doctors amputate frostbitten feet of champion UAA runner

They froze while he was missing for two days.

Anchorage Daily NewsNovember 21, 2011 

Marko Cheseto, the All-American runner from UAA who suffered severe frostbite during a two-day disappearance earlier this month, has had both feet amputated, the university's athletic director saiD Monday.

Cheseto, a 28-year-old Kenyan who ran to the NCAA Division II West Region cross-country championships in 2009 and 2010, lost both feet above the ankle on Thursday, according to a statement released by the University of Alaska Anchorage.

In the statement, Cheseto thanked those who participated in a massive, almost city-wide search of trails and streets.

"As some may know, I've been going through a lot of personal issues," Cheseto said. "While I am still recovering -- both physically and emotionally -- I will do my very best to give back to the community that has helped me so much and to my home country, Kenya.

"I sincerely apologize for any problems that I might have caused."

Cheseto is believed to have been outdoors the whole time he was missing, UAA athletic director Steve Cobb said Monday. The runner may have been unconscious at times, he said.

"He was running on a trail at one point, I know that," Cobb said. "There's really a lot of things we just don't know yet."

Cheseto disappeared on Sunday evening, Nov. 6, wearing jeans, running shoes and a light jacket -- no gloves, no hat, no boots, no cellphone. It snowed more than a foot while he was missing and temperatures dropped into single digits.

Then, at about 3 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 9, he was found wandering outside a hotel near the university. The night manager at the SpringHill Suites said paramedics who responded to the hotel's 911 call were unable to remove Cheseto's shoes because they were frozen to his feet.

Cheseto was hospitalized with hypothermia and severe frostbite at Providence Alaska Medical Center, where he remains, the university said.

Shortly after Cheseto's hospitalization, university police said the runner had vanished because of a "personal crisis."

One of several Kenyan runners who have come to UAA to compete for the Seawolves in track and cross country, Cheseto skipped last spring's track season in the wake of William Ritekwiang's suicide. Ritekwiang and Cheseto were teammates and friends who both came to UAA from Kapenguria, Kenya.

Cheseto, like many of the Kenyans, excels in the classroom and was on track to graduate this spring, Cobb said in an earlier interview.

On Monday, Cobb said school is still in Cheseto's future. He is a nursing and nutrition major.

"We're working with his teachers," Cobb said. "He's a very smart young man. We're thinking he'll be able to complete his course work this semester and (be back in school) next semester."

Cheseto has his own health insurance -- a requirement for all foreign students at the university, Cobb said.

Cobb described Cheseto as being in high spirits and ready for his rehabilitation. He added that Cheseto's ordeal will not affect UAA's future recruitment of Kenyans, who have succeeded both athletically and academically over the years.

He added that Cheseto received counseling after Ritekwiang's death last winter, both on and off campus.

"He's got three pretty distinct support groups," Cobb said -- the university and athletic department, the men and women who compete on the school's track and cross country teams, and the Catholic Church, of which many of the Kenyans are members.

Cheseto is one of the most decorated athletes in UAA history.

He is a six-time NCAA Division II All-American -- four times in track and twice in cross country. At the 2010 national track championships, he claimed sixth place in both the 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters. That summer, he set a half-marathon record in the Mayor's Marathon with a blistering time of 1 hour, 7 minutes, 47 seconds.

He has a resume loaded with impressive personal bests, including 29:08.28 in the 10,000 meters, 13:58.85 at 5,000 meters and 3:49.33 at 1,500 meters. According to his bio on the UAA website, before Cheseto came to UAA, he ran a 5,000-meter time of 14:30 on a dirt track at 6,000 feet elevation.


Reach Beth Bragg at bbragg@adn.com or 257-4335.

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