Among the “American Dream” stories that will soon be coming out of the Olympic Games, the tale of Janet Cherobon-Bawcom should have a place of honor.
The oldest of eight siblings who their mother raised alone in Kenya, Cherobon-Bawcom was 19 and walking to a bus stop on the way to visit an aunt in the hospital when a stranger offered her a ride. With little money to spare for bus fare, she accepted. The stranger was Peter Rono, the 1988 Olympic champion at 1500 meters. He told her about how running could be a route to American colleges for Kenyans. The young woman had never considered becoming a runner, but if it meant a scholarship to study nursing, maybe she could learn. For more on that story, click here.
During her All-American college career, she met Jay Bawcom. They married. After becoming a U.S. citizen in November 2010, Cherobon-Bawcom sought permission to compete for the United States, which was granted last September.
Since then, the 33-year-old has won five U.S. road titles, at 10K, 15K, 10 miles, 20K, and 25K, and finished fifth in the Olympic Marathon Trials. On June 22, at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials, she made the 2012 Olympic team at 10,000 meters—thanks to already owning the Olympic “A” standard when others did not—despite finishing seventh while struggling with upper-respiratory issues.
“I’m so excited, I can’t even express it,” said Cherobon-Bawcom at the post-race press conference, still soaked after competing in a downpour. “It’s a terrible way to make the team, but I got in and I’m just so excited.”