Coach, team bond on trip to Africa

Eluding traffic jams is a universal fantasy.

Cal State Stanislaus running coach Kim Duyst got through one in a particularly unusual way with the United States cross country team in Africa last spring.

On her way back to the team hotel from the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Mombasa, Kenya, every vehicle came to a halt.

The delay was unacceptable for a terrorist-conscious American staff, and the team bus didn't sit for long.

"All of a sudden, we were up over the curb going against traffic," Duyst said. "There was a (security) jeep in front waving cars to the side so we could get through. They didn't want us sitting in traffic. It was an interesting ride back."

Duyst's 21st season as coach at Stanislaus begins Saturday with the Stanislaus Invitational on the Turlock campus. She went to Africa in March to coach the United States senior women's cross country team. It was her sixth trip as a national coach, appointments that have taken her to Canada, Paris and Morocco in the last nine years.

But her memories of her latest trip reach far beyond the competition.

The team traveled everywhere with armed escorts, ate breakfast while watching a family of monkeys play and was serenaded by schoolchildren.

Duyst said the team of 25 athletes and staff was a little embarrassed by the special treatment, especially when local police cleared the street during a shopping trip so there would be no chance of theft.

She said Mombasa ranks third in the world in crime, so the United States team took every precaution to protect the athletes and staff. They were accompanied to the beach, and anywhere they wanted to go away from the hotel, by armed guards.

One day, a South African athlete looking for a shuttle to the meet became upset and caused a small scene when he couldn't board the U.S. bus. Duyst said the precautions kept a few American athletes from making the trip to Africa, but most understood they just needed to be careful.

"I was more intrigued than nervous," Duyst said. "Of all the trips, it was the most secure I've felt."

The only thing that made Duyst jump was a brief power outage in her room. She said she got used to them, as the hotel often had electrical shortages. Because the team had to stay together, Duyst said everyone got to know each other well and learned from each other.

The U.S. women finished eighth out of 12 teams at the meet.

Being in a country that appreciates long-distance running was inspiring for Duyst.

"It's like football here," Duyst said. "There were people in trees watching along the course. Close to 50,000 came out to watch. Of course, the Kenyans dominated. It was hot, very high humidity, but we managed."

One of Duyst's favorite memories was visiting an elementary school where half the students were mentally or physically disabled, a social taboo in Africa. The U.S. team passed out shoes and candy and took pictures with Special Olympians.

When the bus arrived, the uniformed schoolchildren were standing outside singing to the athletes.

"I can't describe how joyful that was," Duyst said. "That was a great highlight for everybody involved. We wish we would have known. We would have brought more stuff."

Bee staff writer Kelly Jones can be reached at or 578-2300.

Related stories from Modesto Bee