October 5, 2006

10 Questions with Cross Country's Nyam Kagwima

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After squeezing into a spandex unitard and spray-painting his running shoes gold, Paul Testa gave senior distance runner Nyam Kagwima a run for her money. He’s still paying off his debts.

1. First of all, you’re late. I hope you don’t do this in races. What’s your excuse?

I had a review session

You had a review session that was more important than 10Qs!? Inconceivable. Besides, I feel like of any athlete at Cornell, a runner should know how to be on time.

We have a lot of things to do.

Well, what was the most valuable piece of information you learned from this “review session?”

What’s going to be on the exam.

I guess that’s important.

2. The last guy I interviewed on the cross country team, senior captain Brad Baird, has some impressive Fabio-esque hair. Does Baird have the best hair on the cross country team?

Yeah, I think so, for a guy.

Just for a guy? I mean that Fall Sports Supplement cover was total blond on blonde action, hair-wise. Is Baird kind of fussy about his hair?

I don’t know. He’s just Brad. He doesn’t do anything weird; he just has it long. That’s about it. That’s Brad. We all have our things, I guess.

Yeah? What’s your thing on the team then?

Oh, crap… I don’t think I have a thing.

Everyone has a thing.

Well, [senior captain] Robyn [Ellerbrock] said she told you about the chicken thing.

I don’t know what you’re talking about. What do you mean chicken thing?

I don’t know. I just do a little squawk, just to kind of get the chicken out of you before you race.

So you’re on the starting line clucking like Chicken Little?

It’s more a thing to get your nervousness out, and it adds a little humor to when you’re on the starting line.

So I’m feeling a little nervous doing this interview because you could probably run circles around me. Could you lighten things up maybe?

[Laughing]

No, the chicken comes out at unexpected times. That’s the thing, that’s the chicken

What if I was to race you from this table at CTB to the McGraw Tower. Are you chicken now?

I’m tired. I had a workout. It’s my off time.

But I feel like chicken tonight. Just one cluck?

Baaawwwkk! That’s all, and that was a low-key one.

3. What’s it like at the starting line of a Heptagonal championship, aside from the clucking, bawking and general ruffling of feathers?

Heps can pretty nerve racking. It’s so intense, just being there with all those people. It’s what you trained for all season. You’re there getting ready to go, and everyone’s all gassed up. I feel like it’s the highest-pressure time.

I’ve heard that when you were younger as a freshman or sophomore you maybe had some trouble keeping the pre-race meal down on the line.

Oh. Wow. Are you seriously going to talk about this?

I’ve puked over much less.

Well, I think it’s nerves and adrenaline.

I’d probably crap my pants if I had to run a 5K.

Just thinking about what I want to do, it’s a lot of nerves and lot of stuff in my head.

Once that starting gun goes off, though, is all that stuff behind you?

Yeah, it’s like I’m ready to go. I don’t like the lines because they take forever.

4. Cross country combines a lot of individual performances within the context of a team sport. What’s it like on the course? Is it a pack mentality or every girl for herself?

Well, we’re really trying to work on running as a pack because that’s what’s going to make the team do well. When it comes to starting out, though, sometimes individuals have different ways of getting to where they need to be. You do whatever it takes to get you there, and when it’s time to go, you’re all together.

You and senior Toni-Lynn Salucci have been running neck-and-neck all year, literally seconds apart. Is this a rivalry, or is it more like two great runners making each other better?

We’re definitely teammates, and we’re working together.

But come on, she’s been like a second ahead of you for the past two races. You’ve never thought about switching her spikes out or tying her shoelaces together?

I’ve definitely run so much faster this season that I can’t complain. We’re both pushing each other to run a lot faster, and that’s where the team aspect comes and where it really matters. Having more people around the same time is a good thing as a team because it lowers your score.

But when that finish line comes in sight, does it mean all bets are off?

I’m just happy to be done. You just keep running because you’ll be done sooner.

5. You girls on the cross country team wear less clothes than Paris Hilton when you race. Does it make you run faster?

I think it’s a college thing.

Awesome.

At least for me that seemed like what it was because in high school we had these baggy shorts and these baggy tops. But I knew once I went to college, I was going to have to wear spandex.

Do you ever get a wedgie on the course?

Yeah, it happens.

What do you do?

You don’t think about it because that’s the last thing on your mind.

You don’t stop and pick it out?

No, that throws you off.

Have you ever see a girl ahead of you sporting a nice wedgie and just cracked up? [Winking]

When I’m racing, I don’t pay attention to those things because if I’m noticing what’s wrong with what my competition is wearing, then I’m not really concentrating on my race.

Do you girls train in spandex?

Well, people train in a variety of things, shorts, spandex…

Anybody wearing those aerodynamic tight things?

Oh, no, not the unitard.

The unitard would be awesome. Will you wear that for Heps?

No, that’s ridiculous. If I was the best woman in the world, maybe.

I think I’ve got Marion Jones’ number somewhere in my cell. We’ll give her a call later and ask what her secret was.

6. Running so many miles a week, I feel like your feet must have it pretty bad. How nasty are your feet by the end of the season?

You take care of them. You can keep them together. Dancers’ feet can be much worse with all the pointing they do.

But with that constant pounding — do you get a pedicure after every race?

No.

Don’t lie. Let me see.

[Pushes chair back] I’m not going to show you my feet! It’s just regular maintenance.

Yeah? What would you advise our readers to do to keep their feet in top condition?

Massages are good.

Really? Who do you get foot massages from?

Myself. I don’t have a foot masseuse.

I’ve never had a foot massage.

They’re good.

[Sighing] That’s what I’m told.

7. Does Gatorade really work better than water?

I think it does. It helps me.

What’s your favorite flavor?

I like the blue ones, Glacier Freeze or something?

Yeah, blue is definitely my favorite flavor.

It’s not as sweet as the other ones.

Yeah, the fruit punch tastes like those red freezie pops.

I’m also starting to get on the Rain flavors.

Blasphemy!

They’re not as strong.

Maybe a little soggy? I still think I’d go with the classic Cool Blue Raspberry.

8. So your family is from Kenya, and you lived there for some time. Do you prefer running without shoes?

[Laughs with disbelief]Wow.

I’m just kidding, but Kenya is like the place to be for distance runners right?

Yeah, it definitely has a high altitude and that helps with making your heart and your cardiovascular system stronger. But when I was in Kenya, I wasn’t actually a runner, I was a swimmer. I didn’t start running till I came here.

Really? So what’s harder, swimming or running?

I feel like swimming is harder, just because you have to deal with the water. Comparing my workouts in swimming versus running — in swimming you can have two-hour workouts every single day, but with track and running the workouts are more like twice a week.

At least the scenery changes when you’re running. In the pool it’s just one end of the pool and then the other.

Yeah, but you find ways to entertain yourself, singing, thinking about other stuff.

What kind of songs? Maybe some Aqua? [Mugging for the tape recorder]

I don’t know, whatever song gets stuck in my head. I’m a Disney fan.

9. All right, what’s on your Ipod?

I have a lot of random stuff.

Hakuna Matata?

I don’t have that. I should.

What would you envision yourself crossing the finish line to?

Whatever song I feel like. It’s really a matter of how I feel and what mode I’m in, but if I had to pick, “Die Another Day.”

Like the theme song from the eponymous James Bond movie with Halle Berry?

Yeah, when you’re out there it’s kind of like a war. It’s you and the time and the course. It’s either you win or the course wins, and I’d rather die another day.

What’s music you can’t run to?

Well, if I’m trying to run fast it can’t be anything slow.

Sorry, Barry White.

I need something up-tempo, so when I get tired, the beat will carry me on.

10. What’s the hottest male varsity team at Cornell?

I knew you were going to ask this question.

[Waves hands like Jon Stewart] It’s what I do.

I said I was going to be different and pick something weird, but because of my running schedule, I don’t think I’ve seen all of the teams or gotten a chance to check everyone out.

I’ll speak to Director of Athletic Communications Jeremy Hartigan to see if we can set up some speed dates with the men’s teams.

But I feel like on each team there are some good-looking guys, so if they put them all together on a team, they’d have Cornell’s finest.

You want an all-star team of hotness? No, that’s unacceptable. You can’t pick and choose.

All right, men’s track. I see them a lot.

Are they really that hot, or is it just the proximity?

It’s definitely the proximity, I mean once you know people…

So these guys could be Ugly McUggs, and you’d still pick men’s track?

No, they’re definitely not ugly. But like I said, I haven’t seen all the teams on campus.

So you’re keeping your options open. Any events that are particularly attractive?

The sprinters are always fun.

Is men’s track more attractive because you have first hand experience with what they’re doing?

I don’t know, you see their bodies, and they look good.

Works for me.

Paul Testa is a Sun Assistant Sports Editor. 10 Questions will appear every week this year except for next week unless Testa miraculously learns how to do econometrics. Comments and suggestions may be sent to pft4@cornell.edu