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Army twin sisters hope to represent US in Olympics

U.S. soldiers Spc. Winrose Karunde, left, and Sgt. Caroline Karunde are twin sisters who immigrated to the United States from Kenya. Both are seasoned runners who have their hopes set on making the 2020 summer Olympics in Tokyo.

COURTESY OF CAROLINE KARUNDE

By MICHAEL S. DARNELL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 30, 2016

GRAFENWOEHR, Germany — The journey of Caroline and Winrose Karunde began in a small village in Nyeri, Kenya. It has continued through Texas, into Germany, and will soon proceed through Washington. In that light, Tokyo doesn’t seem so far away to the two soldiers.

U.S. Army Sgt. Caroline Karunde, recently assigned to the Vilseck-based 2nd Cavalry Regiment, and her identical twin sister, Spc. Winrose Karunde, with the 5th Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, in Baumholder, are Kenyan-born Army medics with grand aspirations. They hope to represent the United States in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, and they plan to help their struggling community in Kenya — the motivation that launched their running careers.

“When we grew up we wanted to be doctors or something to do with the health care profession so that one day we could go back and help people, because health care is not established back at home,” Caroline said. “Mothers still die when they give birth.”

Higher education was a luxury the Karunde family couldn’t afford, especially after the death of their father, John Karunde, soon after the twins graduated from high school. Caroline and Winrose knew that to get an education, they’d have to earn it on their own.

Kenya, Caroline pointed out, is known for having some of the best long-distance runners in the world, a fact consistently confirmed at the highest levels of competition. So they turned to running to catch the eye of university athletic recruiters.

“My only vehicle to get here — to get an education — was running,” Caroline said. The sisters distinguished themselves early on. Texas Tech University cross-country coach Jon Murray watched the Karundes compete and offered them a scholarship on the spot.

“I knew from there nothing could hold me back from furthering my education and achieving my dreams,” Caroline said.

The twins enrolled at separate National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics schools to satisfy the remaining academic requirements to study and compete at NCAA institution Texas Tech. Weeks after leaving their home country, the twins reunited, this time as competitors, at a meet.

“We’ve been together so long, we grew up together, so being separated in a different country — that was different,” Winrose said. “I needed somebody to be there for me, and she needed someone, so coming back together after two weeks was so exciting,” Winrose added.

In 2009, the twins were once again united, this time as teammates for the Texas Tech Red Raiders.

“When we were united in 2009, that was the best moment in my life, because I knew that I’m back with my family, my twin sister is here and we can do anything,” Caroline said.

The sisters’ dominant NAIA stints led to stellar careers at Texas Tech. Winrose was a 2010 NCAA qualifier in the 3,000-meter steeplechase and Caroline earned 2010 All-Big 12 honors in the 1,500-meter. They each graduated in 2012 with nursing degrees and began to ponder the next step in their journey. The military proved an attractive choice.

“You can give back to the community and at the same time you’re serving in the military, they can pay for your education,” Caroline said.

The two signed up for the Army and found themselves stationed on opposite sides of Germany, where each has continued to pursue their shared goal. They hope one day soon to join the Army’s World Class Athlete Program, which provides official support for soldiers hoping to qualify for the Olympics and had several of its members competing at the 2016 Games in Rio.

Their next mile marker comes Oct. 9, when the twins represent U.S. Army Europe in the Army 10-Miler in Washington, D.C. They’ll be joined there by three other Kenyan-born 2CR soldiers — Alfred Kangogo and Daniel Kibet, both specialists from Eldoret, and Spc. Michael Biwott from Kapsowar in Marakwet.

Those three soldiers, along with Caroline, have banded together to form a training cadre. Every morning, the four gather in the backwoods of the Vilseck training grounds to run upward of 20 miles.

Kangogo, a former University of Alaska Anchorage cross-country All-American, said the team has what it takes to represent the Army in the Olympics.

“Everybody has the potential; we have the potential to get there,” he said. “We just need to sharpen our training. If we train harder and be motivated, we’ll make it.”

That’s a truth Caroline and Winrose Karunde have lived from the moment, long ago and far away, that they took their first steps in pursuit of their goals.

“I tell people it’s all here,” Caroline said, pointing to her head. “It’s all mental.”

darnell.michael@stripes.com

Michael Biwott, now a U.S. Army specialist with the Vilseck, Germany-based 2nd Cavalry Regiment, competes in a race while a member of the America International College, Mass. He is one of four Kenyan immigrants with the regiment who qualified for the Army Ten-Miler to be held Oct. 9, 2016, in Washington, D.C.
PHOTO COURTESY MICHAEL BIWOTT

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