Reminded of Edward Cheserek, Alfred Chawonza Blazes New Path

There's a road Alfred Chawonza sees before him, one that's been pressed hard and fast years before. 

And the St. Benedict's Prep senior is quick to pay homage to it, because it opened up doors that led him to where he is now. 

But roads are meant to be exited, and by now Chawonza is starting to realizing that history and legacy are two different things. 

So with his senior season well underway and with a few of Edward Cheserek's records now in his grasp, the 18-year-old teenager and native Zimbabwean being recruited by the likes of TCU, Texas Tech and LSU is starting to carve out his own path, one which is chalk full of new real estate. 

"I might not be able to achieve what he achieved," Chawonza said of St. Benedict's Prep graduate Edward Cheserek, who graduated in 2013 and went on to become a legend at the University of Oregon. "But by going after some of the things he's done, I'll be somewhat close to him and I can try to become better. Having him as someone who came before me, it gives you the belief that you can be more and can do almost anything."  

And those aspirations are real: Chawonza has intentions of breaking 1:50 in the 800m by the time indoor season ends, surpassing Cheserek's indoor school record of 1:52.11, while St. Benedict's 4x800 squad, which finished fourth at New Balance Nationals Outdoor last spring, is hoping to vie for a national title after splitting a US No. 1 time of 7:47.60 in December. 

Senior teammates Jackson Burnett (1:57.47), Lewis Ngwenya (1:58.30) and Jalen Cabrera (2:03.55) have all posted open or split times under 2-minutes for 800 meters so far this season. The program is also US No. 4 in the SMR. 

"If everyone is fit and healthy, I think we can split 7:42," said Dave Alfano, an assistant coach with the Gray Bees who's detail-oriented processes has led to big gains from his athletes. 

Recently, Chawonza tackled his first Cheserek record: He set a new school best in the 1K, producing a time of 2:25.77 indoors. He also dropped a career best of 1:20.26 in the 600m at the Stanner Games on Jan. 12. 

But that's where these two athletes veer. Cheserek, while fast, was more of a distance standout, while Chawonza largely has focused on the mid-distance, reaching as low as the 400m and going up as high as the mile. 

* Chawonza (left) anchors St. Benedict's Prep's boys

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Cheresek owns the program's overall 800m (1:49.98), 1600m (4:09.90), 1-mile (4:03.29), 3200m (8:53.65), 2-mile (8:55.12), 5K (14:02.33) and 10K (29:42.31) records. But indoors he never ran an open 400m or a 600m. 

And yet, Chawonza's coaches still believe there are logical comparisons. Both athletes are among the most gifted athletes they've ever coached. 

"Alfred's form is gorgeous," said Dwayne Cox, who's the head of the program. "When Alfred opens up, he's in a class of his own. His finishing kick, it's perfect." 

"I've coached guys who have run 1:54 to 1:56, but I've never a guy who broke 1:50," said Alfano, who ran at LaSalle and is from West Orange. "So I've really relied on what's gotten him to that level. With me, if you have an athlete of his caliber, don't fix what's not broken."

Still, Chawonza has yet to put down a true breakout season. 

He arrived at St. Benedict's Prep from Zimbabwe in 2017. Prior to enrolling at the New Jersey private school, he had competed in the World Youth Games and was also an accomplished rugby player, where he was lined up as a flanker or centre. 

The teenager's pace was his biggest asset. 

"I had speed and my coaches wanted to exploit that," Chawonza said. 

But by his sixth year in grade school, Chawonza began to run, and two years later he made a decision to focus entirely on it. By the time he was in his eighth year, he had already split 1:56 in the 800m and was showing promise in the 1500m, where he competed against athletes from Botswana and Gambia in international competition. 

He was given an opportunity to attend St. Benedict's in 2017, at which point he and his family knew the opportunity couldn't be passed up. 

"I wanted to go to a good college, where I can continue with my academics and have an opportunity to run at another level," Chawonza said. 

Injuries over his first two seasons have shortened his bursts of success, though. In ensuing seasons he's had minor hamstring pulls which have limited his overall efforts. His sophomore season saw him post a career best 800m time of 1:52.44. Last year, the junior split three efforts under 1:54 and he posted a best of 4:03.46 in the 1500m. 

One particular moment irked Alfano last year. 

"I will never forget it," he said. "It was 47 degrees out and I told Alfred to put two pairs of tights on. It was a more sprint based workout, but it wasn't the right call. We did a workout where Alfred dropped a 17.2 second 150 toward the end, and he was in killer shape. But it was one rep too much, and I took full blame." 

In the time since, both Cox and Alfano have advocated for more resistance training and weightlifting to strengthen the muscles in the hamstrings. They've incorporated Crossfit into his training. And it's that core strength which has lifted the senior to his best health in years. 

"We told ourselves, 'We have to help build the structure around the leg so that this doesn't happen again," Cox said. "You've seen a slimming down of Afred and you've started to see him grow up. The muscle structures are coming in and you can see a big difference." 

Competing against the likes of New Jersey's best mid-distance talents -- some of the best runners in the country -- has also helped. Recently, Chawonza was beat to the line by Passaic's Luis Peralta and Bronxville's Matthew Rizzo in the 1K. Previously, he's also faced off against Hopewell Valley's Sean Dolan

"Those are the types of races I want to be in," Chawonza said. "That's how we run fast times. I wish we could be in the same races on a regular basis; it would help us run our best times and push each other to rise to our potentials." 

So far, Chawonza's best work has come in the 600m and 1K, but both Cox and Alfano are adamant that the senior can push for new indoors PRs and go after Cheserek's school record in the 800m. 

"I believe he can break 1:50 indoors," Alfano said. "I think breaking 1:50 indoors puts you into a different category and that's what we've been working toward. Based off his workouts, he's not that far from it. I mean, I think he's capable of it. That's the big goal." 

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Contact MileSplit National Editor Cory Mull at or on Twitter at @bycorymull