ESPN: UAA runner whose frozen feet were amputated intended suicide

Marko Cheseto, right, gives his jacket to his father Dickson Matoyanga after Dickson finished the Heart Run. Cheseto was given the honorary bib number 1, but was unable to race, so he gave it to his visiting father. More than 5,000 runners and walkers participated in the 2012 Heart Run on the UAA campus on Saturday morning, April 28, 2012. The event raised about $200,000 for the American Heart Association. Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News

Marko Cheseto, the star UAA runner from rural Kenya who went missing in Anchorage for more than two days in November and eventually walked to safety on frozen feet, intentionally overdosed on painkillers and prescribed anti-anxiety medication before passing out along a trail, says ESPN. A lengthy ESPN magazine report on Cheseto tells of his journey to Alaska in 2008 on a running scholarship and the pressure he and his Kenyan teammates felt to do well academically and athletically, as well as hold down part-time jobs so they could send cash home to their families.

The Kenyans were too busy being unspoken breadwinners to date much. [Coach Michael] Friess, worried that they were stretched too thin, told them they couldn't begin work at 6 a.m. anymore. They adjusted by working later. They simply carried on, each handling the pressure in his own way. David [Kiplagat] was driven, eventually graduating with a degree in finance and economics. Alfred [Kangogo] was relentless, earning the nickname Bulldog. And Marko tried to be perfect, putting on a positive front even during the occasional month when he didn't earn enough to send any money home. After he paid rent and his school expenses, much of his $450 take-home was spoken for. Usually he was able to save up and wire $100 every few months.

ESPN links that stress to the overdose suicide of Cheseto's cousin William Ritekwiang, also a UAA runner, in February 2011 and to Cheseto's first suicide attempt a few months later. The Kenyans were so busy with jobs, studies and running that they failed to recognize the depths of despair into which their teammates had fallen, ESPN says.

In an isolated state in a foreign country, the only people who could relate to the Kenyans were the Kenyans, yet they rarely talked about their mutual problems. They just kept their "Kenyan secrets," as Friess says. Until they couldn't.

Cheseto, now walking on prostethic limbs, "famous" among UAA students and "a one-man charity case" in Anchorage, according to ESPN, is finishing his nursing studies and faces huge medical bills.

At each [fundraising] event, he has to deal with the conflicted nature of his fame -- his own self-destructiveness turned him into a reason for people to celebrate him. That gives him more reason to feel alone when he has to be smiling.

Read much more, see photos and watch a video at ESPN: Into the Wild