Sept. 29, 2006
When life got tough for Diane Nukuri in Burundi, she would run away from the turmoil. All those years of running have paid off for Nukuri.
Now a member of the Hawkeye cross country team, Nukuri has run her way to the lead of the pack and has set an Ashton Cross Country Course record in her first competition as a Hawkeye.
“She has great athletic talent. She’s pretty easy going and outgoing. She brings enthusiasm to the team. She just brings a fun-loving spirit. She’s very relaxed. She has positive energy,” said Head Coach Layne Anderson.
Nukuri grew up amongst civil unrest in Burundi. She began running when she was 14; however her mother discouraged her from running because she wouldn’t have a future in it.
In July of 2001, Nukuri had her chance to run. She fled to Toronto, Ontario, leaving behind the rest of her family. Nukuri face many challenges being so far away from home. She had to learn a new language and a new culture.
While attending high school in Ontario, Nukuri caught the attention of the Hawkeye coaches. When Anderson was named head coach in 2003, he learned of Nukuri’s talents and was instantly interested in her.
Because Nukuri had been speaking English for only two years, the ACT posed a challenge. In order to improve her English as well as get more acquainted with her new surroundings, Nukuri decided to attend Butler County Community College in Kansas.
While at BCCC from 2004-2006, Nukuri continued to improve, on and off the track. She was a nine-time National Champion and a 17-time NJCAA all-American. Even though she had remarkable success athletically at Butler, she also grew as a person.
“I just think she’s become more confident with herself as person. She improved the language barriers and her self-confidence,” said Anderson.
“She ran close to 5,000 miles. That’s a long ways. If you can put in 5,000 miles and stay healthy, that’s great.”
Despite being on campus just a short while, Nukuri has already made her mark with the team.
“She gets along great with everybody. Everyone has a great deal of respect for her. Academically and athletically, she’s very committed. She’s always on time, always in good mood, always cheering folks on,” said Anderson.
The change has been easy for Nukuri. The hardest thing has been adjusting to the bigger campus.
“I like it. I love everything about being here. I love the training. I love the classes. I just like it so far. I’m not disappointed with anything,” she said.
“With the campus, it’s big. The classes are harder. There are more people, so I get to meet a lot of people. We have more places to go study, like the library. Everything is big.”
Her performance on the track has also been impressive. In her first competition as a Hawkeye, she ran a 3K in 9:47.89, setting a school and Ashton Course record.
The most impressive thing about Nukuri is her positive outlook. She hasn’t seen her family in years and rarely gets the chance to talk to them, yet she always has a smile on her face and a positive outlook.
“It’s hard. I haven’t seen them in five years,” she said. “That’s really one of the hardest things I have to do. Here or Canada, it’s really, really hard for me. I can’t go a day without thinking about them.”
Even though Nukuri still has two more years of eligibility, she is already planning for the future. She took part in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, for Burundi, and would love to get a second chance to represent her country.
“It was a great experience. It’s something that everyone wants to do. I got to do it so I feel lucky,” she said.
No matter where she ends up after college, she knows she wants to pursue her love of running.
“I want just to run there as a profession. That’s what every athlete wants to do. If I just run and do my job, it’s for me. I want to get my diploma. I want my job to be running, and then later on I can go back home and use my diploma,” she said.
Jennifer Bissell, Iowa Sports Information