Woman of the Month: Mercy Chelangat
Caroline Karrh | Features Editor
“Running is amazing, and it’s in me,” says two-time NCAA national champion Mercy Chelangat.
For Chelangat, running is an everyday thing. Competing in cross country, indoor and outdoor track and field, makes running essentially a part of her daily routine.
Though for Chelangat, it hasn’t always been this way. She began running in 2017, inspired by her brother who ran at Missouri Southern State University and at The University of Alabama (UA).
“I’m a big fan of his and supported him in everything,” she says. “When he got a scholarship, I was like ‘Yeah let me try too’.”
Her running journey started when she attended a training camp, which allowed her to acquire a scholarship to run at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, a small school near the Mexican border. But, coming all the way from her home in Kenya, Chelangat found herself to be homesick, and after about a year, she transferred to The University of Alabama to be closer to her brother, Vincent, who had transferred to UA to compete at a higher level after he clenched back-to-back NCAA Division II titles.
Here, she says, is where she really became focused on her training and it’s seemed to payoff. She’s won numerous accolades and titles, across the state, region and nation, including becoming the 2020-21 NCAA Cross Country Champion, 2020-21 Honda Award winner for Cross Country and the 2022 NCAA Champion for the 10,000-meter event.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Chelangat says. “If you had told me after high school that I would be a national champion, I would have just laughed at you and told you, you were talking about someone else.”
On top of winning multiple championships Chelangat has also shattered several school records. These include both the 3,000 and 5,000 meter run and the women’s 10k, where she has ranked the 21st fastest run time by a performer in NCAA history.
Though the individual titles and records are rewarding, Chelangat says the wins mean all the more if they are done as a team.
“We have won a championship [as a team] and that means so much more than my accomplishments of the past,” she says.
While the titles are great, they are not the only reason Chelangat does what she does.
“Running makes me who I am,” she says.
For her, running is an identity, a way to get out of her comfort zone and an outlet to do something that she loves.
“Not many people knew me before [I started running,]” Chelangat says. “I feel like I have created another identity for myself. Many people know me as ‘runner’ and I feel like that’s pretty amazing.”
Staying focused on the future, she’s decided to use her last year of eligibility and is pursuing her second bachelor’s degree in communication studies, after she received her first in public health.
Along with running at high speeds and winning championships amid her rigorous practice schedule, Chelangat and the rest of the team often volunteer in the community, partnering with organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and Tide Moves.
“Volunteering is important to me because I can also do something for the people in the community not only what I do in athletics,” she says.
Chelangat and the rest of the team are gearing up for the final meets of their cross-country season. After clenching the cross-country SEC Championship titles for both the women’s and the men’s teams for the first time in program history, the team is now gearing up for regionals and nationals, where Chelangat hopes to bring home another win for the university.
After the cross-country season finishes up, she will begin training for her final season of indoor and outdoor track at UA. After she graduates in the spring, Chelangat will pursue her goal of running professionally, and hopes to compete in the 2024 Olympics.
Even though Chelangat is looking to forward to the future, she’s also grateful for the present.
“I am just proud of the work I have been putting in,” she says. “I am just happy, ya know?”
Caroline Karrh serves as our Features Editor. While this is her first year with Alice, she is excited by the prospect of writing and editing both web and print stories. Originally from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, she is a sophomore studying news media and communication studies.