Winning three national championships might make it difficult for some to remain humble, but Micah Chelimo was a picture of modesty while accepting UAA's Bill MacKay Athlete of the Year award Friday at Lucy Cuddy Hall.
Chelimo's acceptance speech was soft spoken, humorous and full of sincere thanks to those who helped him reach his potential as a distance runner. He was so unconcerned with the award itself that he left the podium without it.
"The first minute, I was really nervous" Chelimo said of his speech to a room filled with UAA athletes, coaches and administrators. "It's a great feeling, to be honest."
Chelimo, a senior from Kenya, won three national titles and five All-America honors in three sports over a 10-month period. The impressive stretch started with a 5,000 meters crown at the 2012 NCAA Division II outdoor Track and Field Championships last May, continued with a national cross-country title in the 10,000 meters last fall and another national title in the 5,000 meters at the Indoor Track and Field Championships in March.
Chelimo's favorite moment was his first championship in the 5,000 meters nearly a year ago. He still replays it in his mind over and over when he is alone.
"If it was something bad, I'd say it's haunting me, but it's something good and every time I am relaxing on a bench I can see that movie and it just feels great," he said.
For all the individual achievement in an inherently individual sport, Chelimo cited his teammates as the key to his success. Whether it was an encouraging word at the right time during a practice or hearing his name called during a race, Chelimo said his teammates always knew how to lift him up.
"If you don't have somebody beside you, you don't feel comfortable," he said.
Led by Chelimo's success, the UAA men finished a program-best third in last fall's NCAA Division II cross-country championships, ninth in last spring's NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships and 11th at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships this year.
Chelimo's confidence soared when he started grasping the team concept, said Michael Friess, who coaches track and field and cross country at UAA.
"He's the genuine deal," Friess said. "To see how much he cared about winning and what it meant, not just to him, but to his entire university. It's really about everybody for him and he's going to do his best to bring the entire athletic program to higher levels."
Chelimo is the third runner to win the MacKay award, joining David Registe of the 2008-09 men's track and field team and Tobias Schwoerer of the 2001-02 and 2002-03 men's cross country team.
The MacKay award, sponsored by the Benton Bay Athletic Lions Club and UAA Athletics, is voted on by a committee of UAA Athletics staff, Benton Bay members and local media.
The other 2013 nominees were Marine Dusser (women's skiing), Lukas Ebner (men's skiing), Kyle Fossman (men's basketball), Alysa Horn (women's basketball), Kimya Jafroudi (volleyball), Emily Petersen (gymnastics), Susan Tanui (women's running) and Blake Tatchell (hockey).
Reach Jeremy Peters at email@example.com or 257-4335.
By JEREMY PETERS