Stillman College athlete exceeds both on, off the track
By WVUA 23 Digital Reporter Mason Smith
When you think of Tuscaloosa, the first thing that often comes to mind is the University of Alabama. But three miles away from the flagship institution is Stillman College, a historically Black college located in West Tuscaloosa on the other side of Interstate 359.
Stillman’s athletics history is diverse and extensive, competing in both NCAA Division II and NAIA since the 1960s. The Tigers have alumni who have reached the NFL, MLB and even the Olympics, as Stillman alumnus Jeff Henderson won a gold medal during the 2016 Rio games for long jump.
Now, the latest Stillman athlete finding major success in track and field is Elvis Chebogel.
Chebogel grew up on the track field, as his father and older sister coach the sport. His father served on the Kenyan national team when they went to the Bahamas in 2014 for the International Amateur Athletic Federation World Relays. His mother, too, is a former track athlete.
“It’s like running is in the genes, in the blood,” Chebogel said.
Chebogel began his collegiate track journey in New York, where he attended Monroe Junior College in Rochester. But the Kapsabet, Kenya, native did not mesh with the cold weather. Instead of staying stuck in the snow, he decided to contact Stillman College track and field coach Ashley Curry.
“I posted my times, talked with coach (Curry), and she accepted me,” Chebogel said. “I met her last August, and that’s when we started our journey together.”
Chebogel went on to have a stellar season with the Tigers, earning First Team All-Conference honors in the men’s 800-meter and 1500-meter. He also earned First Team honors as a part of the 4×800 relay.
His most impressive feat, however, is earning one of the highest honors in the Southern States Athletic Conference: Track Athlete of the Year.
He’s the first Stillman athlete to win such a major award in six years, after Dontavious Wright won as a member of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conferecnce in 2016.
Chebogel said he’s proud of his accomplishments, but he’s equally dedicated to his studies.
“Not only must you train yourself when you’re on the track, you must also train yourself in the classroom because the two things go hand in hand,” Chebogel said. “You have to balance them.”
That mentality led him earning a spot on the Barnes and Noble College All-Academic Team, one of four Tigers to earn the distinction. Chebogel also credits coach Curry for keeping him and his teammates on track.
“She takes care of all of us as a mother,” he said. “She is like a mother to me in her approach and the way she talks.”
As is the case with many international athletes, the first person he met and one of the few who truly gets him is his coach. For Chebogel, that closeness has developed beyond the sport, as Curry is someone who’s always stepped up when he or his teammates were in need.
“That’s who Coach is,” Chebogel said.
Curry also holds Chebogel in high regard, praising him for his leadership and dedication to the team.
“Everything Elvis has put into the program, encouraging his peers and taking the leadership role, to see him recognized as the Conference Athlete of the Year is an honor,” Curry said in a statement. “His overall dedication to Stillman and to his peers makes him truly deserving of this recognition.”
Now that the 2022 track season is over, Chebogel said he hopes to further improve during the fall as a cross-country runner for Stillman. Chebogel qualified for the NAIA Cross Country National Championship, but his teammate was 1 second away from also qualifying. Going forward, he said his first goal is helping the team improve their times so more Tigers can qualify for nationals.
His second goal, however, is to help the cross country team get more members. While the team’s individual runners are successful, the Tigers’ five-member roster often does not have enough runners to score as a team. In some cases, they pull athletes from other sports to fill out their roster.
As a result, Chebogel has a challenge for the Stillman student body: If you like running, take a leap and join the cross-country team.
“There are members of the team who are academics,” he said. “But they have a passion for running. That is why they run.”
Chebogel has the same aspirations for the track team, and said he wants to see more participation and more support from Stillman students.
“Let’s build up the Stillman pride,” he said. “Let’s make it more lively, like it used to be in the earlier days.”