Willy Kiptemboi Rotich has come a long way — almost 8,860 miles to be exact.
Born in the Rift River Valley of Kenya, the fifth of eight children, he never dreamt as a boy he’d grow up to live in the United States, be a poet and receive a doctor’s degree from one of the top research universities in the country.
In Kenya, more than half of the 33 million residents bring home barely $1 a day in wages, and many live in cardboard box hovels with no running water, electricity, health care or access to education. Subject to devastating droughts and political instability, the area seems to offer an inauspicious beginning, even for a precocious boy.
According to Rotich, his older brother was his model for success, attending high school and getting an undergraduate degree from Kenyatta University. Rotich was inspired to follow in his brother’s footsteps and pressed on to obtain a master’s degree in kinesiology halfway around the world at Louisiana State University (LSU). Kenya is known internationally for producing the most outstanding distance runners in the world, so Rotich’s academic focus on the study of human movement and physical activity was, in a way, a link to home.
Following his LSU mentor, Dr. Louis Harrison Jr., to The University of Texas at Austin, Rotich completed a doctorate in physical education teacher education, and when he graduates this May he will be the first University of Texas at Austin student to receive that degree.
Now a faculty member at St. Bonaventure University in New York, Rotich enjoys a level of professional accomplishment that precious few with his background have achieved. Although he’s far from home, Kenya lingers in his heart and mind, inspiring impassioned poetry about his native country and its political climate.