UAA cross-country runner missing after snowstorm

Lisa Demer
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News

UAA sports officials and police say they are concerned about a star student athlete who was last seen near the campus library Sunday evening and is considered missing.

Searchers, some with dogs, Monday evening looked in the woods on the University of Alaska Anchorage campus for Marko Cheseto, a decorated cross-country runner from Kenya.

He is well known on campus. Someone remembered seeing him around 7:15 p.m. Sunday at the social sciences building, which is connected to the library, said Rick Shell, UAA police chief.

That night, Cheseto did not return to his apartment on 42nd Avenue, police said. His roommates are fellow athletes who reported him missing Monday morning to the coach, Michael Friess, said UAA athletic director Steve Cobb. On Monday, Cheseto didn't attend class. His teammates and coach checked his home and locker and found his winter coat, car keys and cellphone.

"He hasn't been seen from or heard from," Shell said. "It became worrisome."

Officials are concerned that he may have succumbed to the elements.

"We have to assume he wasn't dressed for the weather that hit," Shell said.

While he went by Marko Cheseto, his legal name was Marko Cheseto Lemtukei, Shell said.

Anyone who may know his whereabouts is asked to call campus police at 786-1120 or Anchorage police at 786-8900.

Cheseto, 28, is 6 feet tall and 160 pounds and speaks with an African accent.

He is part of an elite group of Kenyan runners at UAA and also made a name for himself winning races in town. Last year, he set a course record in the Mayor's Half-Marathon. He twice won the NCAA Division II West Region cross country championship, a 10-K race.

By this fall, he had used up his eligibility for cross-country so didn't compete. But he traveled with the team as a manager and continued to train with the cross-country runners, Cobb said. He remains on UAA's track roster for the coming season.

"He's part of our family," Cobb said.

The UAA running community suffered a loss in February when another of the Kenyans, William Ritekwiang, committed suicide. Cheseto and Ritekwiang, who was 23, came from the same village in Kenya, Kapenguria.

Last spring, Cheseto sat out track season.

"It was for personal reasons and it was related to the fact he was very close with William, the young man who committed suicide," Cobb said.

Cheseto had been doing well lately, Cobb said. He is an exemplary student with a high GPA on schedule to graduate this spring with a nursing degree, Cobb said. He hoped to return to Kenya to use his skills in his home country.

The search was suspended for the night around 8 p.m. and set to resume today at 10 a.m.

On Monday, the Anchorage police search team, campus police search volunteers and members of Alaska Search and Rescue Dogs were out looking. Today, the effort will be expanded with the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group, Nordic Ski Patrol and Alaska State Troopers, which planned to send up a helicopter, Shell said.

"I am very concerned, whatever might have happened with Marko," Cobb said. "Right now, we just want to find him."

Reach Lisa Demer at or 257-4390.

UAA opens door to opportunity for Kenyan runners (10/25/08)
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