UNCG All-America runner Paul Katam, a native of Eldoret, Kenya, is leaving school to enlist in the U.S. Army.
"He really feels strongly this is the best decision for his future," interim coach Chad Pearson said tonight. "I fully support it. It's a situation that certainly is unique. He's doing what he feels like is best for him down the road."
Katam, who was not available for comment, confirmed by text tonight that he would be leaving Greensboro on Monday.
Classes for the UNCG spring semester begin Monday. Katam, who had pursued a pre-nursing path, was expected to graduate in May 2015 and leaves in good academic standing, Pearson said.
"From what he explained to me," Pearson said, "he was going to be able to get those (remaining) classes completed on a part-time basis, and the military would provide the support he needed for that."
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Katam will enlist in the United States' Military Accessions Vital to National Interest program, which will offer him the chance for an expedited U.S. citizenship. According to a MAVNI fact sheet, "those holding critical skills – physicians, nurses, and certain experts in language with associated cultural backgrounds – would be eligible."
Katam leaves the UNCG program in the middle of the NCAA indoor track and field season, and he would have competed for the Spartans in the outdoor season in the spring and in a final cross country season in the fall.
Katam finished second in the 10,000-meter race at the NCAA track and field championships in June in Eugene, Ore. His time of 29 minutes and 41.27 seconds was nearly nine seconds faster than his winning effort at the NCAA East regional on a rainy May night at A&T's Irwin Belk Track.
Fellow Kenyan Paul Chelimo also earned a runner-up finish, his second straight, at 5,000 meters in the same meet.
The two runners from the famed Rift Valley have been among the most accomplished athletes in school history and have helped a program that lacks its own track and sprint program to score attention at the national level.
Katam's and Chelimo's runner-up finishes gave the UNCG men's team 16 points at the national meet and a share of 15th place, better than any other North Carolina school and any ACC team except Florida State.
Chelimo, who loses a training partner with Katam's exit, is expected to graduate in May.
Former Spartans coach Linh Nguyen recruited and coached both athletes but resigned in June to become head coach at Toledo. Pearson, one of his assistants, was hired by athletics director Kim Record as Nguyen's successor on an interim basis.
Among the other career superlatives for Katam:
- Won the NCAA East regional 10,000-meter race in 2012 in 30:05.74 and earned second-team All-America with a ninth-place finish at the NCAA championship meet in a school-record 29:10.65.
- Qualified for the NCAA cross country championship meet in 2012 and 2013. Katam finished fifth at the Southeast Regional in 2012 and seventh in 2013 to earn his spots.
- Won the Southern Conference indoor 5,000 in 2013, with his time of 14:13.77 good for a 15-second victory.