EDINBURG — Every day, Abraham Chirchir would get ready for elementary school.

And he’d start running.

He’d run six miles to school and those same six miles home.

“I would also come home for lunch and go back in the afternoon,” Chirchir said. “Every single day.”

Chirchir, from Iten, Kenya, is the face of distance running — both in track and cross country — for UTRGV. The sophomore has hit the sport running, no pun intended, since his freshman year when he captured the Western Athletic Conference’s Freshman of the Year in cross country, indoor track and outdoor track. He was ranked the No. 9 freshman in the NCAA and became the university’s first NCAA qualifier since 2005. He won the first career race he competed in, the Aggie Opener at Texas A&M.

He showed why he would be a familiar face the following year, advancing to the NCAA’s for the second straight year, becoming the program’s first runner to qualify for NCAA Championships in back-to-back seasons since 2002-03.

“He has this amazing natural ability,” third-year cross country and track and field head coach Darren Flowers said. “He is so focused and dedicated and he takes it very seriously, even outside in life with things like his diet and proper nutrition, and getting the right rest and sleep. I know that for the 21 hours a day that I don’t see him that he’s doing right things. So many are distracted.

“Abraham is steadfast in his purpose and what he wants to accomplish. He came here like that as a freshman and if you’re that dedicated, you’re going to stand out.”

Chirchir is the baby of his family with three older brothers and two older sisters. He said out of that group, he’s the only runner and until another runner asked if he knew about scholarships and running in the United States, he would just do it for fun. It was just a part of life.

“It was just fun,” he said. “We were just kids and we were enjoying it and seeing who was stronger than the other. We had some competitions and people in the area would tell me to represent them and told me they believed in me so I would do the competition.”

In high school, Chirchir would run for fun. Then he met another runner who changed the course, no pun intended, of his life.

“He asked me if I had heard about scholarship in America and I asked him how it worked,” Chirchir said. “He told me about time trials and if you hit the times and you do all the paperwork then you can qualify for scholarships and go to college and run in America.

“I was like, OK, I’m not going to miss anything.”

Chirchir’s running resume is impressive and will, more than likely, continue to grow as the junior continues working toward his ultimate goal of earning All-American honors, which require him to finish among the top eight at nationals. He’s won the WAC indoor 5,000-meter championship three straight years and won the indoor 3,000-meter run this year.

He prefers to run longer distances and hilly terrain. He said that’s where his strengths shine.

“The longer the distance, the stronger I am,” Chirchir said. “Then, when I’m going up a hill, I will pass someone and can hear them trying to keep up.”

That, he added, is a mistake for any runner.

“You have to run your race and know where your strengths are,” he said. “You have to be mentally focused and prepared, too, and not get caught up in someone else’s race.”

“When I’m trying to recruit, I’m looking for great people to bring into the program,” Flowers said. “People who can weather the storm and their character shines through. After talking to him and the ones around him who are associated with him and his family, I knew he was a great person.

“He was getting offers from places like Alabama and other Power 5 schools. “We were able to get him because of the people who were guiding him, and some of it was just plain luck. He was highly recruited. His first two weeks here, he was doing stuff I’ve never seen before and I’ve been doing this a while.”

Chirchir is unquestionably happy with being at UTRGV. He likes the weather — even though it’s a little more humid and hotter than his hometown — and he especially likes it better than the cold, first experiencing the true north weather during qualifying nationals in Wisconsin.

“It was just too cold,” he said. “It was so cold for me. It was a little hilly, but not that much. I didn’t have a problem with the terrain, but it was super cold and made it harder to breathe.”

Still, he finished second.

“Kids that live in those villages where he grew up have that foundational training,” Flowers said. “In his mind, he’s expecting the worst conditions, but he is notorious for grinding through all that.

“Abraham has a great smile and a soft-spoken personality, but people know him all across the country. Having him at the forefront of this program is so important – he is what we are about.”

Chirchir took a little time to get accustomed to being in America; landing in the Rio Grande Valley to start school being his first time here. He has, however, adjusted. One school official said he would see Chirchir walking on campus or running all over the place. Recently, however, he started to see him drive.

He probably lived too close to campus to just run there.

hmiller@themonitor.com