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New face could give Ten-Miler team edge

Photo courtesy of Sammy Ngatia Sammy Ngatia brings wealth of running experience to Ten-Miler team.

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Kathy Salcedo has good reason to be confident in the Joint Base Lewis-McChord Ten-Miler teams this year. The team coordinator returns several veterans who have competed in the annual race held in Washington, D.C. Last year, JBLM's active-duty masters men and active- duty women finished second in the Commander's Cup, while the active-duty men finished third.

But there is a new face on the team that might give JBLM even more of an edge. Sammy Ngatia brings a wealth of training knowledge, experience and victories. The sergeant with the 295th Quartermaster Company has competed in eight Ten-Miler races, helping his team win six Commander's Cup trophies.

It is hard to believe Ngatia is 53 years old as he records times better than his younger counterparts.

"That veteran experience and viewpoint is priceless," Salcedo said. "His age lends a mentorship especially for the younger guys. And he's even running faster than some of the younger guys."

Ngatia arrived at JBLM in February. Salcedo first met him in July at the timed trial when he posted a time of 1 hour, 4 minutes, 58 seconds after minimal training.

"I still try to challenge the young Soldiers," Ngatia said.

The Kenya native arrived in the U.S. in 1981 where he ran cross-country for the University of Texas at El Paso. During his peak Ngatia was ranked No. 7 in the world and he won a bronze medal in the 1982 World Games. He qualified for the 1988 Olympics to represent Kenya, but politics within the team prevented him from competing, Ngatia said. He also won three marathons.

Looking for a new challenge Ngatia joined the U.S. Army in 1994. Three years later he competed in his first Ten-Miler race where he helped lead Fort Carson, Colo. to a Commander's Cup.

"You run against the best in the military," Ngatia said.

Ngatia won his first individual title in 1999 and then a year later he was the first overall finisher - the first runner older than 40 to do so. He set the masters male record at 48:50, which still stands today. Ngatia went on to finish first in the masters male division in 2002 and 2004.

Ngatia's last Ten-Miler competition was in 2009 when he led Hawaii to its first Commander's Cup.

"I had organized that team," Ngatia said. "Because they had never won I wanted to prove they could win."

Ngatia was deployed to Iraq during the 2010 race and wasn't physically prepared to compete in 2011. This year he is back and is focused on the JBLM team as they begin training this week for the 28th annual race Oct. 21.

"This time I'm just trying to help the team," he said. "The team is strong. It can win it."

Ngatia listens to his body and knows when he needs to ease up on his training. His body tells him he's not ready to retire from the sport that is his life.

"Running is addictive," he said. "After you have been on top and doing it for so long it can become a part of you."

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