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IUPUI students, faculty want to make Eldoret, Kenya, sports tourism destination

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Four students and three faculty members from the IU School of Physical Education and Tourism Management will spend 22 days in Eldoret, Kenya, this month as they work to make it nothing less than the long-distance running capital of the world.

training

This IUPUI service-learning course is focused on promoting the High Altitude Training Center in Eldoret as a sports tourist destination geared toward people interested in long-distance running, biking and physical training. The project combines academics, service, economic development, cultural awareness, inspiration and maybe even a spiritual awakening as the IU delegation works with local residents and faculty from the Netherlands and Kenya's Moi University. More than just a class project, it allows IUPUI senior Raynesha Rogers to share her passion for health with others.

"I'm infatuated with healing," Rogers said, "not the medical part of it, but the natural part of it. I like helping people."

The foundation for the trip was laid a year ago when Sotiris Hji-Avgoustis, professor in IU's School of Physical Education and Tourism Management, oversaw a feasibility study for making the HATC, located about 30 minutes away from Eldoret at an elevation of 7,000 feet, known worldwide among long-distance running enthusiasts. Founded in 1999 by Lorna Kiplagat, a four-time world champion runner, the HATC is surrounded by hundreds of miles with dirt roads, perfect for running and mountain biking. Visitors and athletes will find a 400-meter dirt track and hills for hill training. The HATC's facilities include a state of the art gym, fitness center, sauna and 25-meter solar heated swimming pool and a pool restaurant.

"Eldoret will be promoted as a place where top Kenyan long-distance runners were born and those professional runners are using the same track at the HATC that the tourists are exercising on," Hji-Avgoustist said. "Our goal is to promote HATC as a destination for people interested in either participating themselves in long distance running or watching elite athletes in training."

IUPUI got involved in this project so that Eldoret can gain a reputation as the long-distance running capital of the world just as Indianapolis has become known as the amateur sports capital of the world. By making Eldoret a sports tourist destination, Rogers believes she and her classmates will truly be making a difference.

"We are doing marketing on the other side of the world," Rogers said. "How much bigger can you get? We are being so much more effective over there than we ever could be in the U.S."

More than a trip, a journey

For Rogers, a fifth-year senior majoring in physical education with studies in occupational therapy and exercise science, this is more than a class project -- it's an opportunity of a lifetime, one that she is willing to take even if it means delaying graduation by more than a year because of possible class schedule conflicts.

Rogers will be blogging about her experiences here at www.provocate.org.

Rogers is not only excited about going to Kenya, but is glad to be learning more about the growing industry of sports tourism -- one definition of it being an organization tailored specifically to a certain physical activity -- because she wants to open her own business one day.

"We are using tools that will help me with what I want to do," Rogers said.

She wants to leave her mark on Eldoret. She hopes to help develop ideas that the HATC and the rest of city will profit from.

"The whole goal is to build everything around the HATC, but to start from there," Rogers said. "Everyone benefits from it including the tourists who stay at the HATC."

One of Rogers' ideas is to create an exchange program where Kenyans travel to America and Americans go to Kenya in order to learn new training techniques. "After four years, I've got to have learned something," Rogers said jokingly.

And helping the local economy is exactly what Hji-Avgoustis wants to accomplish. "We are focused on the long term and we want to empower local farmers and generate money for them," Hji-Avgoustis said. "We want local farmers to sell their merchandise to local businesses."

Locals are also involved in this project -- faculty and students from Eldoret's university, Moi, are overseeing the project, too. "We need to get locals invested in this," Hji-Avgoustis said. "There is no doing this long-distance."

Giving back while moving forward

Rogers is glad that she can combine her love of Africa with her affinity for sports. When Rogers discovered that the School of Physical Education and Tourism Management was traveling to Kenya she knew she had find a way to make it possible for her to get there -- not just for herself, but for her mother. Rogers' mother has been the instructor of a Fort Wayne African dance troupe for 22 years, which has made Rogers fond of African art and culture.

"I want to go experience this for her," Rogers said. "It really is so much more than school. I want to get something spiritual out of this trip. I'm expecting a lot, but we'll see what happens."

A $10,000 grant from the Efroymson Family Fund, managed by the Central Indiana Community Foundation, will help offset some of the students' expenses. Rogers still had to raise more than $5,000, which to her surprise, she accomplished through a lot of fundraising and some side jobs, including washing cars. Then came the shots -- a total of seven -- and she has to take medicine that prevents malaria. The pills cause nausea, but Rogers is not complaining.

"I've never even had a spring break," Rogers said. "I knew that if I didn't go now, I would probably never be able to."

Rogers said she is looking forward to being one of the guinea pigs for this challenging course and all that comes along with it: the intense workload and large amounts of research.

"I'm being thrown into this big project," Rogers said. "We are being thrown into the water and we are either going to sink or swim. I know a little bit about it all, but I'm not sure of what to expect. I guess I will just have to figure it out as I go."

To read more articles from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, visit: http://newsinfo.iu.edu/cat/page/normal/372.html.