Meet Gladys Chepngetich: Kenya's budding athletics star with big dreams

Gladys Chepngetich

Gladys Chepngetich, undergraduate student at Clemson University in South Carolina, during a past competition.

Photo credit: Courtesy

What you need to know:

  • Gladys Chepngetich says her mother, Rosaline Kebenei, inspired her to pursue athletics. 
  • She says athletics has also shown her the importance of setting goals and managing stress.

Born on May 20, 2001 in Kapsokio village in Nandi County, Gladys Chepngetich attended Kapsokio Primary school and then Kosirai Girls High school.

After high school, the last-born in a family of eight joined Janeth Jepkosgei Athletics camp in Kapsabet for a short period of time and later on Townhall Athletics camp in Iten, Elgeyo-Marakwet County which is run by US-based William Ngetich, Silas Kiplagat and coach Willy Bitok.

She says that’s where her life changed.

She is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Sports Communication (Athletics Leadership) at Clemson University in South Carolina.

Gladys started pursuing athletics when she was 15 years old. She boasts of personal bests of 19:52.0 in 6km, 16:43.4 (5km), 4:37.16 (Mile), 4:13.15 (1,500m) and 1:59.81 (800m).

She swept the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Outdoor Women’s Freshman of the Year, ACC Women’s Freshman of the Year for Cross Country and ACC Indoor Track & Field Women’s Freshman of the Year Indoor Track & Field crowns in the just-concluded 2023-2024 season.

She spoke to My Network about her athletics journey and her future aspirations.

Looking at what you have achieved as a freshman at Clemson University is inspiring. What does it take to post such good results?

Achieving accolades requires dedication, hard work and a continuous effort to improve and excel in your field. It's about developing your skills, staying resilient through challenges, maintaining a passion for what you do, and always striving for excellence.

Building strong relationships, being innovative, and conducting yourself with professionalism and integrity are also key.

Let’s go back to where your athletics journey started. Where did you get the inspiration?

My mother, Rosaline Kebenei, inspired me to athletics. She used to run when she was young, but because she had no support she didn’t go far. Additionally, I used to read magazines about athletics and I came across world and Olympic champion, Faith Kipyegon. I read about her life journey and I was so motivated. I would watch videos of her running and I was like, “I need to be like her one day!”

What do you like about athletics?

I love athletics because it keeps me physically fit and mentally tough. It gives me a great sense of achievement when I reach my goals, and I enjoy the camaraderie and team spirit that come with it. Athletics also provides a healthy way to relieve stress, encourages a healthy lifestyle, and offers the thrill of competition and personal growth. Plus, it's a lot of fun and brings joy to my life.

What specific challenges to you as a woman have you seen in athletics since you started doing athletics?

Women athletes face numerous challenges, including gender discrimination, pay inequality, and lack of media coverage. They often have limited access to resources and support, and they struggle to balance their careers with personal responsibilities.

Additionally, they deal with body image issues, sexual harassment, and under-representation in leadership roles. Inadequate medical support and cultural barriers also hinder their progress. Despite these challenges, women athletes continue to break barriers and achieve remarkable success.

Gladys Chepngetich

Gladys Chepngetich, undergraduate student at Clemson University in South Carolina, during a past competition.

Photo credit: Courtesy

Personally, I faced a lot of challenges after finishing school because I wanted to join an athletics camp, but I did not find anybody to support me. I also went through a lot when I was looking for a US Visa, which I had to travel outside Kenya to get it.

How does your family view your involvement in sport?

My parents and siblings view it positively because it promotes physical health, mental well-being, discipline, and social skills. They appreciate the confidence, goal-setting, and structured activity sports provide.

However, my parents also have concerns about injury risks, pressure, time commitment, costs, and the potential for burnout. Overall, they see sports as a valuable part of a child's development and education. They are the most supportive people in my life.

Has athletics shaped you as a person?

Yes, it has, in many ways. It has taught me discipline, time management, and the value of hard work. I've become more resilient and learned to persevere through challenges. Being part of a team has improved my teamwork and leadership skills, and achieving my athletic goals has boosted my confidence and self-esteem.

Athletics has also shown me the importance of setting goals and managing stress, while encouraging a healthy lifestyle. Additionally, it has helped me develop strong social skills and build lasting friendships. Overall, athletics has been crucial in my personal growth, shaping my character and values.

How do you manage to juggle academics and sports?

Being a student athlete is not that easy. I manage to juggle academics and sports by prioritising time management and setting clear priorities. I create a structured schedule that balances both, and I stick to it consistently.

Gladys Chepngetich

Gladys Chepngetich, undergraduate student at Clemson University in South Carolina, during a past competition.

Photo credit: Courtesy

Effective study techniques and utilising downtime help me maximise productivity. Seeking support from teachers, coaches, and family is crucial, as is maintaining a healthy lifestyle with proper sleep and nutrition. Setting realistic goals and staying positive and motivated also play a big role in balancing both commitments successfully.

Who is your role model in running?

I look up to Faith Kipyegon. I admire her for her longevity and success on the track. She has won Olympic and numerous World Championship medals, and continues to perform at a high level. Additionally, her advocacy for women's rights and maternal health has been inspiring.

What is your best moment and worst moment?

My best moment was when I ran under two minutes (1:59.81) in round 1 at regions in Kentucky, at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) East Regionals; which is one of the fastest times in NCAA history. It was incredibly rewarding because it was the result of hard work and dedication.

Achieving this milestone boosted my confidence and motivated me to aim even higher. On the other hand, my worst moment was when I failed to make the finals at the NCAA Championship recently. I was so disappointed.

However, this experience taught me resilience and the importance of perseverance. It helped me grow stronger and more determined to achieve my goals. Both moments have significantly shaped who I am today, teaching me the value of both success and overcoming adversity.

Speaking of goals, what is your big dream in athletics?

My big dream is to achieve my goals and also, in future, I need to be an Olympic champion and maybe (world) record holder.

Apart from athletics, what else do you do?

Apart from athletics, I enjoy playing volleyball and travelling. I also spend time with my family and friends. I love travelling and exploring new places whenever I get the chance. Additionally, I volunteer with a charitable organisation which is very fulfilling. For relaxation, I practice yoga and enjoy spending time in nature.

Lastly, what advice would you give to someone keen on taking up athletics?

My advice would be to set clear goals, stay dedicated to your passion, and embrace challenges as opportunities for growth. Prioritise your mental health, seek guidance from mentors, and develop resilience.

Remember to stay humble, maintain balance in your life, and continuously learn and improve. Most importantly, enjoy every step of your journey and cherish the experiences along the way.