By Yereth Rosen
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - A top college runner from Kenya who lost his feet to frostbite after spending two days missing in an Alaska snowstorm was despondent over the death of a friend on the day he disappeared, according to a police report made public on Tuesday.
Marko Cheseto, a two-time NCAA All-American runner for the University of Alaska at Anchorage, had been struggling emotionally since a close friend and fellow Kenyan runner committed suicide in February, according to the report, which was compiled by the university's police department.
Cheseto, 28, left the university during a heavy snowstorm on November 6. He walked into a campus hotel more than 48 hours later, severely hypothermic and suffering from frostbite.
"He told me that he felt like no one had been able to understand how difficult things had been for him, and that everyone basically just said to hang in there," a police officer who interviewed Cheseto in the hospital after he was rescued wrote in the report.
Cheseto is among several Kenyan runners who have helped turn the University of Alaska into a cross-country and track powerhouse.
He holds the speed record for the Anchorage Mayor's Half-Marathon, a popular event held in mid-summer. He also holds academic honors for maintaining a near-perfect grade-point average while studying nursing and nutrition.
PASSED OUT IN THE WOODS
His close friend, and fellow runner from Cheseto's hometown of Kapenguria, William Ritekwiang, committed suicide in February. Two months later, Cheseto was hospitalized and has been the subject of university officials' "ongoing concerns," according to the UAA police report.
The report clarifies the series of events between Cheseto's disappearance on a Sunday evening and his early morning rescue on the following Wednesday.
On the evening he disappeared, Cheseto spent much of the day studying, according to the report, before leaving the student union headed for a local trail, started running and then became disoriented. He was wearing only a light jacket, running shoes and no hat or gloves.
"He stated that he remembered going up a steep hill, coming back down it, and then taking a left turn off the trail and running into the woods. At this point he believes he passed out," the report said.
When Cheseto woke up, according to the report, his legs were buried under snow and he was barely able to move. He heard road traffic but was unable to call out for help.
He eventually became mobile, followed some ski tracks and wound up at a hotel by the campus, where he was rescued. When he reached the hotel, his shoes were entirely frozen to his feet and he was severely hypothermic, according to the report.
Cheseto was "shocked" to learn that days had passed since he left the student union, according to the report.
Search teams mobilized at the time used dogs, snowmobiles and a helicopter to comb the wooded area near the university but found no sign of Cheseto.
He was hospitalized for several days after his rescue and his feet amputated because of severe frostbite. Temperatures at the time he was outdoors were in the single digits.
The UAA Athletics Department has established a fund to collect private donations to help Cheseto pay for his medical treatment and recovery.
(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Greg McCune)