Trip to Kenya refocuses Roth for track, Arizona

By: Brent W. New
February 7, 2014 Updated: February 7, 2014 at 10:30 pm
photo - Bailey Roth, the Boys' Cross Country Peak Performer of the Year, stands for a portrait at The Gazette Photo Studio in Colorado Springs, Colorado on Thursday, December 5, 2013.  (Kent Nishimura, The Gazette)
Bailey Roth, the Boys' Cross Country Peak Performer of the Year, stands for a portrait at The Gazette Photo Studio in Colorado Springs, Colorado on Thursday, December 5, 2013. (Kent Nishimura, The Gazette) 

If there was a recurring theme to Coronado runner Bailey Roth's 2013 cross country season, it was bad luck.

The senior went from getting his wisdom teeth pulled to having dried-out sockets to being hit with a virus. Then, when he started to feel somewhat healthy, he got another virus and then a respiratory infection heading into the state meet where the 4A favorite finished 17th.

After that, and after the frustrating ill-felt weeks that followed (which included a frustrating finish at Nike Cross Nationals), Roth was pushed by another clock. One that counted down the days he had to decide where he would run for the next four years.

"It was a lot to take in. Honestly, it all drained me," said Roth, who deliberated between Arizona and Oklahoma.

That's when Roth took an opportunity of a lifetime. The Georgia-native, one of seven siblings, got a chance to catch his breath and clear his mind with a trip to Kenya, a breeding ground for some of the best distance runners in the world.

Roth, who went from Dec.?26 to Jan. 16, took the trip alone.

"It was time to just think and be on my own for a while," said Roth, who stayed in Kenya with one of his dad's friends, Sammy Kitwara - one of the top marathon runners in the world.

For the past seven years, his dad, Brian, managed Kenyan runners - helped them get on their feet in the U.S., gave them a place to stay and helped them earn a living running.

"It was amazing and something I won't ever forget," Roth said. "... The trip definitely refocused me and showed me why I love this sport and why it's not just a competition to me. I ran with these Kenyans who had nothing but worn-out shoes and a hut. You'd think they'd have a million distractions and worries, but when it's time to run, that's the only thing on their mind. They just love it."

Roth joined the runners on every one of their three runs a day.

It was Roth's chance to see running from a view he'd never thought of before. On these runs he'd look around and see the despair of the third-world country. He'd see the dilapidated houses, the hunger and health care well below any standards he'd ever seen.

But then he'd see the Kenyans who were by his side, and they were still running.

"To be the best, I realized you have to train like the best. You can't be distracted or not focus when it's time to run, when it's time for business," Roth said. "They run for the hope of a better life. I've never seen anything like it.

"So it gets me thinking, 'What's stopping me? What's holding me back from where I want to get to in this sport?'"

He vows nothing will from here on out.

And, in the midst of it all, Roth realized he knew where he wanted to go all along. In the days after he returned, he chose Arizona, where he'll be coached by James Li, who coached another of the world's best distance runners in Bernard Lagat - a Kenyan-American.

"It was a tough choice, but at the same time it was the easiest choice ever," Roth said. "I know I wanted to go there. And I know I'm doing what I love most while I'm there, which is running."

Kenya helped him remember that.

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