Cheseto sets prosthetics record at New York City Marathon
By Matias Saari, Alaska Sports Blog Contributor
Marko Cheseto has had a monumental week.
On Sunday, his photo, with the caption “Kenya’s Blade Runner” was featured on the front page of Kenya’s newspaper The Daily Nation. That same day, the former University of Alaska Anchorage cross country and track standout ran the New York City Marathon in 2 hours, 52 minutes to set a new record for a bilateral (below the knee) double amputee on prosthetics.
“This country has offered me so much,” Cheseto, who came to Anchorage from Kenya in 2008, said on Facebook. “My higher education, a great family, running career and the list goes on and on.”
Cheseto’s life nearly ended in November, 2011 through a tragedy that attracted national attention. Suffering from depression following the suicide of his cousin (a fellow Kenyan runner at UAA), Cheseto spent 55 hours without shelter or adequate clothing in the snowy woods near UAA before walking out with hypothermia and frostbite. He says he does not remember the episode. Doctors subsequently had to amputate both of Cheseto’s feet above the ankles.
Eventually Cheseto, a popular Healthy Futures role-model athlete, resumed running on custom prosthetics (carbon fiber blades). He also earned a degree in nutrition from UAA and got married in 2014.
Initially he hoped to compete at the Paralympics and he even qualified for the 2016 Summer Paralympics in Brazil, though his participation fell through due to funding problems with the Kenyan team.
However, the longest event at the Paralympics is 400 meters, so Cheseto switched his focus to distance events, where before his accident he’d had considerable success (he still holds the Mayor’s Half Marathon record of 1:07:47 set in 2010).
But Alaska with its harsh winters is a tough place to train properly year-round. So this June Cheseto moved with wife Amanda and their three daughters to Orlando, Fla. There he works at a prosthetics manufacturing company and has a good training atmosphere.
“I am glad I moved. Everything is going well,” Cheseto said by phone.
Cheseto returned to race the Anchorage RunFest half marathon in August, placing 10th overall in 1:26:55. He also finished a 10K in Florida Sept. 30 in 37:27 (6:02 pace per mile).
Those efforts, along with training nearly 80 miles per week, helped prepare him for the New York City Marathon, one of the largest and most prestigious marathons in the world, though in retrospect he wishes he’d had more than 3 ½ months to get ready.
“This was my first marathon and I didn’t know what to expect. My goal was to run it in sub-3 (hours),” adding that the previous record for his category was 3:02 (the overall record for a double amputee is 2:42)
Cheseto, representing the Challenged Athletes Foundation, ambitiously sped through the first half in 1:20:37 (6:09 pace) despite being accidentally tripped and falling at Mile 8.
“Within 10 seconds I was up. I only had a bruise on my right elbow,” Cheseto said.
But the final five miles, which included some hills and many turns, proved to be difficult and Cheseto’s pace slowed considerably. “Running in prosthetics, the sudden changes in gradient are hard,” he said.
Spurred on by enthusiastic spectators, Cheseto still finished in 2:52:33, placing 614th among more than 52,000 runners.
Cheseto, 35, feels like he’s just getting started. He plans to race the Chicago Marathon next October, which features a flatter and straighter course than New York.
And he has a new goal: to run a marathon in under 2 hours, 20 minutes, a time that even few able-bodied runners achieve.
“My next move is just committing and training professionally,” said Cheseto, who has a coach in California. “Maybe in two years time I want to run with the elites in a marathon.”
Cheseto also looks forward to increased opportunities as a U.S. citizen. Tuesday’s ceremony fell on election day, which didn’t allow time for him to register and cast a ballot.
“The next election, I can vote,” he said.
NOTE: Other notable performances by Alaskans at the New York City Marathon included Michelle Baxter (149th place among women in 3:05:52) and Jay Mullen (527th place overall in 2:50:57).