Running didn’t necessarily begin as a passion for Janet Cherobon-Bawcom.
It wasn’t until she met Peter Rono at the age of 19 that she began to take interest in the sport — an age some would consider “a late start” for an athletic career.
The 1988 Olympic gold medalist, who was from a village in Kenya that neighbored Cherobon-Bawcom’s home of Kapsabet, told her running could help her get a scholarship to a college in the U.S. As the oldest of eight children from a single-mother household, it was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up.
“All I wanted from running was just a scholarship that I could get a degree out of and just to have a better life from where I came from, from a poor village in Africa,” Cherobon-Bawcom said.
Running takes Cherobon-Bawcom to 2012 Olympics
Not only did she achieve a full-ride scholarship to Harding University in Arkansas, Cherobon-Bawcom also dominated the track with eight All-American titles and three Division II championships under her belt by the time she graduated in 2005. Better yet, she earned her degree in health care management and went on to become licensed as a registered nurse.
Cherobon-Bawcom continued to run in local races for fun after college. She and her husband, Jay Bawcom, moved to Flagstaff in 2011 when she decided to try her hand at running professionally.
The following year, Cherobon-Bawcom was one of 62 women to earn a spot on the London 2012 U.S. Olympic Track and Field team. She placed 12th in the 10,000-meter event with a time of 31 minutes, 12 seconds and 68 milliseconds, her personal best.
“When I met the Olympic team, my fear was I’m going to be running in front of 100,000 people, that is all that came to my mind. I was like I better be in shape, I better be healthy,” Cherobon-Bawcom said with a laugh.
“I don’t even remember being excited or anything that I’m going to Olympics until I actually walked in the Olympics opening ceremony,” she continued. “That is actually when it hit me and I thought, ‘Oh, my goodness, I am actually here, I actually made the Olympic team.'”
Serving Grand Canyon South Rim’s 2,500 residents during the pandemic
After competing on the grand stage of the Olympics, Cherobon-Bawcom and her husband landed nursing jobs at Grand Canyon National Park in 2017. The community’s one North Country HealthCare clinic provides services to the approximately 2,500 residents who live along the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and its visitors.
When COVID-19 struck the country last spring, Cherobon-Bawcom helped with testing efforts in the small community, Flagstaff and surrounding Coconino County. Early on during the pandemic, she was forced to quarantine because she tested a tourist who ultimately had the virus.
“It’s not fun for anybody,” Cherobon-Bawcom recalled of those long days she spent in protective gear testing patients. “I would stand on my feet with a suit in 90 degrees for however many hours.
“It was stressful, like this was something new and people were asking you questions but you don’t really have the answers,” she continued. “I was just thankful that I could be of help and thankful that we have a great community that followed the instructions and they actually stayed safe.”
Grand Canyon South Rim has had more than 200 positive COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic and, as of Aug. 28, more than 70% of the population was fully vaccinated against the virus, according to Coconino County Health and Human Services’ weekly report.
Cherobon-Bawcom and her husband have not contracted COVID-19 and were able to vaccinate each other last December.
Before the pandemic, Cherobon-Bawcom was still competing in races and even ran with the Grand Canyon High School track team on occasion.
“I think it’s good to have that relationship to show the young kids here that the sky’s the limit, you can dream and you can make it happen,” she said, adding that she came to the U.S. with only $50 in her pocket.
“Without the help of people along the way, I don’t think I’d be where I am,” Cherobon-Bawcom continued. “I have been blessed beyond my wildest dreams for sure and, for anybody out there, you should not limit your dreams.”
Reach the reporter at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @curtis_chels.
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