When Fort Lewis College men’s head cross-country and track and field coach Josh Coon heard about Ikageng Gaorekwe for the first time, he was instantly impressed. He also believes that Gaorekwe can help turn the program’s aspirations of being a top contender in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference into a reality.
Gaorekwe, who grew up in South Africa, recently signed with the Skyhawks from Central Arizona Junior College and will be immediately eligible to compete for the Skyhawks’ track and field team this spring. He will compete for the cross-country team next fall.
Coon said it was his teammate at Central Arizona, John Ngaruiga, who helped convince Gaorekwe to run at Fort Lewis.
“John and Ikageng were teammates in junior college, and they were apart of the 2018 JUCO national championship team,” Coon said. “Ikageng was their top runner and John was their fifth-best. John came in this past summer, and he opened up the door to get talking to Ikageng. He felt good about running in Division 2, and decided to sign with us.”
Gaorekwe put together a number of impressive performances in his two seasons at Central Arizona. He was fifth at the 2019 National Junior College Outdoor Track and Field Championships in the 5,000-meter race in May. He also had a strong winter, as he took fourth at the NJCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships in the 3-kilometer race, and was second in the 5-kilometer race. Before he came to America, he helped South Africa to a bronze medal and took 17th in the 2016 African Cross Country Championships in the 7-kilimeter race in 23:49.
With strong times and a slew of top-10 finishes, Gaorekwe caught the eye of a number of Division I schools, including the University of Alabama, Oklahoma State and the University of Oklahoma, which boasts a whopping 38 team track and field national championships. He opted to sign with Fort Lewis because of the team’s chemistry, Durango’s unique trail system and Ngaruiga’s convincing message.
“When I came for a visit, I was blown away,” Gaorekwe said. “John and some other guys I used to race with in junior college were saying good things, especially about the academics and trails in town. From the moment I got to campus, I couldn’t wait to sign. The team environment is fantastic, and I am looking forward to competing there.”
Coon said that Gaorekwe really struck a chord with the team chemistry, and believes he will be a good fit at Fort Lewis.
“His times across the board are stout, his steeplechase personal best would’ve matched the top time in Division 2 last year. What attracted him to here was the closeness of his teammate, and the vibes of our guys. Just our culture in general was good, I think.”
While Gaorekwe’s times are impressive, maybe even more so is his unique running style: he competes barefoot. Coon said that he does not compete barefoot in the snow, but will do so in virtually every other circumstance.
“I’ve been running barefoot all my life,” Gaorekwe said. “The best times I’ve had in my life were when I was barefoot, and I feel free. Most other South Africans when growing up ran barefoot, and it felt natural to me.
The reason why Gaorekwe came to the United States was to prove Athletics South Africa, the country’s governing body of track and field wrong.
“In 2017, I was mad at my country for not selecting me to represent them at the world championships,” Gaorekwe said. “I represented South Africa in 2015 in China for the World Cross Country Championships. I was on the roster the whole way until two weeks before they selected the team. It hurt me, and some friends encouraged me to apply to college in America, and I chose Central Arizona because it was warm. I still want to prove them wrong, and want to represent South Africa again in the future.”
While Gaorekwe is recovering from a hamstring injury and won’t compete until February, he believes that he can thrive at Fort Lewis.
“My number one goal is firstly to get my degree,” Gaorekwe said. “As a team, we know we can be at nationals in a year or two, and I believe that with the guys we have, and the coaches supporting us, we can do it.”