By 1st Lt. Robin Pyo | 4th Infantry Division Public Affairs Office
FORT CARSON, Colo. — Not many people choose the military as a career, and far fewer would professionally compete in sports while serving. But that is exactly what 1st Lt. Sam Chelanga and Sgt. Emmanuel Bor are doing. They are two of eight military service members currently training in the World Class Athlete Program (WCAP) at Fort Carson for the 2021 Men’s Track and Field Olympic Trials. The Olympic trials is the quadrennial meet to select the country’s representatives at the Olympic Games. This year, the trials will be held June 18-27, 2021, in Eugene, Oregon
Chelanga is a Kenyan-born American track and field athlete who competed in the 2016 U.S. Olympic trials, and is a four-time winning NCAA Division I champion; two times in cross country, one 5K and one 10K event. He began running for college scholarships and started winning major competitions. After graduation, he became a professional runner and started a seven-year sponsorship contract, but that all ended in summer 2018 when he joined the Army and went to Basic Combat Training.
“I wanted something that was bigger than me,” he said. “The craziest yet easiest decision to make.”
He commissioned in January 2019 as a quartermaster officer and has served as a platoon leader for 18 months. Originally stationed at Eglin, Florida, his unit granted him a temporary duty assignment to WCAP to train for the upcoming Olympic trials this year.
Bor’s career started with an 8-mile run in elementary school. As his older friends competed at the Olympic level and became world champions, he followed suit. He continued running and eventually ran for the University of Alabama at the World University Games, winning accolades including the Southeastern Conference Cross Country Championship.
The course of his life changed, however, when he enlisted in the Army in 2014 as a dental specialist. While stationed in Fort Bliss, Texas, Bor met the commanding general of the installation, who asked him if he could get his run time fast enough to compete.
By 2017, Bor moved to Fort Carson to train for the Olympics, and with his training, he has led the Army men’s team to win the gold medal in the 2019 Armed Forces Cross Country Championship alongside his younger brother Staff Sgt. Hillary Bor, WCAP.
“I am ready,” Bor said regarding the upcoming Olympic trial. “I hope I don’t get sick or get COVID (-19). (My goal is to) stay out of trouble and stay hydrated.”
Scott Simmons, who has 31 years of coaching experience, has been by their sides throughout the journey to prepare them physically and mentally.
“It’s a lot more individualized. No timeouts like there are in team sports,” Simmons explained. “Once they start running, it’s up to the athlete, and I’m just there to help them get into that mindset.”
“It’s been a tough year due to COVID (-19),” he added. “Access to training areas and competitions have been limited, but they’re doing the best they can.”
The athletes train together wherever they can, including on empty high school track fields in order to time their laps and maintain each other’s pace. Other times, they run on their own or conduct muscle stabilizing exercises at gyms.
Colorado’s naturally high altitude helps condition their lungs to perform under limited oxygen levels. Especially for someone like Chelanga who traveled from Florida to join WCAP, altitude adjustment was a major part of his initial training.
Despite the pandemic that has affected training conditions, military athletes like Chelanga and Bor remain determined to make the best of their situation and come out on top. The WCAP Soldiers’ hope is to qualify for the Olympic Games and represent the military.