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A long way from home – Khat makes journey to NIACC from Sudan

This news story was published on October 29, 2016.
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NIACC sports information director

Khat competes in Griak Invite

Khat competes in Griak Invite

MASON CITY – When NIACC’s Wal Khat toes the starting line for Saturday’s NJCAA Region XI cross country meet, the 8 kilometers that he will cover will be nothing compared to the long journey he took to arrive on the NIACC campus.
The standout cross country runner grew up in Sudan, Africa, which is 7,175 miles from Mason City.

Khat went to high school in Mooseheart, Ill. and attended the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh before transferring to NIACC for his sophomore season.

“It was hard, especially with the language,” Khat said about the transition from Sudan to the United States. “There’s a lot of challenges. I came with my cousins. I look up to those guys and they’ve helped me a lot.”

Before coming to the United States, Khat did not see himself as a runner. He said he preferred riding dirt bikes to running as a child.

“Before I came to America, I didn’t know that I was a runner,” he said. “I didn’t compete back home. I grew up on a farm back home and hung out with friends and they’d say ‘this kid is so fast.’

“So then when I came to America, I started to run.”

And he’s been excelling in the sport of cross country ever since.

In his freshman season at Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Khat placed fifth in the Division III race at the Roy Griak Invitational, he was 14th at the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference meet and was 11th at the NCAA Division III Midwest Regional.

After his freshman season at Oshkosh, Khat decided to transfer to NIACC and run for coach Curtis Vais, who recruited Khat when he was in high school in Mooseheart.

“I feel I made a good decision to come here,” Khat said. “I regret it sometimes. I was going to come here my freshman year. If I would have made the decision to come here my freshman year, that would have been a fantastic decision.”

Khat was twice selected as the NJCAA Division I athlete of the week by the United States Track and Field Cross Country Coaches Association this season. He won the award on Sept. 7 and on Sept. 12.

Khat has two wins to his credit this season – winning the NJCAA Region XI time trial and Grinnell’s Les Duke Invitational. He also has two second-place finishes to his credit and a fifth-place finish at the Griak Invitational (the highest finisher ever for a NIACC men’s runner).

Khat’s lowest finish was 14th at the Arkansas Chile Pepper, but in that race he set the school’s 8k record of 24:48.

“My season is going really well here at NIACC so far,” Khat said. “I’m still looking for more progress.

“My goal is to run my race (Saturday). I’m not going to guarantee how well I’m going to do, but I know I am going to do well and I know our team will do well. Then I’m looking forward to nationals.”

Vais said he’s glad that Khat made the decision to attend NIACC even though he has him for only one season.

“He works hard and is a pleasure to have on the team,” the coach said. “I recruited him two years ago and it didn’t work out.

“I think he really enjoyed his visit to NIACC when he was in high school but I think he looked back on where he felt comfortable and this was it. It’s been fun having him. He’s a competitor. He was runner of the week twice this year so that tells you his ability. He works hard and is pretty easy going, too.”

As far as his future after NIACC, Khat has attracted interest from several NCAA Division I schools. But Khat has not decided where or what level he plans on running at next season.

“Running Division I really isn’t a big deal to me,” he said. “I’m looking for where I can get my education – it doesn’t matter what level I go to.”

Vais said there will definitely be opportunities for Khat going forward.

“There’s going to be some bigger schools,” Vais said. “Another thing that goes with his talent is scholarships that will help him pay for school.

“He’s doing the right thing in his classes and on the cross country course. There’s a lot of interest now.”

And as far as going back home to Sudan, he hasn’t been back since he left Sudan to attend high school in Mooseheart.

“I plan on going back to visit,” he said. “But right now it’s not really safe. I’d like to go back there and visit, though. But I don’t know when I’ll go back. I miss them.”

NJCAA Region XI cross country meet

Location – NIACC campus, Mason City.

Women’s 5K race – 11 a.m.

Men’s 8K race – Noon.

Awards banquet – 1:15 p.m. in the NIACC activity center. Meal is $10.

Wal Khat’s bio
2016 highlights: Khat was selected as the NJCAA Division I athlete of the week by the USTFCCCA on 9-7-16 … Khat was selected as the NJCAA Division I athlete of the week by the USTFCCCA on 9-12-16.

2016 at NIACC

NJCAA Region XI time trial (5K) – 1st (16:13). Augustana Twilight Invitational (4-mile) – 2nd (18:58). Les Duke Invitational (8K) – 1st (26:55). Roy Griak Invitational (8K) – 5th (26:18). Arkansas Chile Pepper (8K) – 14th (24:48). Loras College Invitational (8K) – 2nd (26:13).

Personal bests

5K – 16:13 (2016 NJCAA Region XI time trial, Mason City, Iowa).

8K – 24:48 (2016 Arkansas Chile Pepper).

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