I’ve been super-disciplined. Running, going to practice and going to the meets puts me in a mindset of working to be successful. If I have time to go on a 10-mile run, then I should have time to do an hour or two of homework. I make sure everything balances out.
Whether competing on the race course or pursuing his academic goals, Taban Manyok ‘24 is driven.
Born in a refugee camp in Kenya after his mother fled from civil war in South Sudan, Manyok emigrated with his mother and sister to the U.S. at the age of 3, first to upstate New York and North Dakota before settling in Lynn, Mass., and attending Catholic schools. He learned English as a second language, and thrived despite the culture change.
“I’ve been very blessed my whole life,” Manyok said. “It’s all God’s plan. Some other family could have been chosen at the refugee camp to come to America, but we were chosen.”
Now he is grateful for the opportunity to pursue a college degree in computer science, and is embracing opportunities inside and outside the classroom at Fitchburg State.
The sophomore had a stellar year on the Fitchburg State Falcons’ men’s cross country team, earning the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASCAC) Men’s Cross Country Runner and Rookie of the Week several weeks in a row during the fall season, and repeatedly earned high marks during the indoor track and field campaign last winter.
Manyok remembers when Fitchburg State got on his collegiate radar. He was competing at a track meet in 2019 when one of the Falcons’ assistant coaches sought him out after seeing him in the high jump and invited him to check out the program. “I said, ‘Sure, that’s great,’” Manyok recalled.
The coach stayed in touch with Manyok in the coming months, seeking him out at other meets in the region. That attention meant a lot to Manyok. “At bigger schools, you’re just a number,” Manyok said.
Manyok visited Fitchburg State in person in October 2019. “I loved the school, I loved the library,” he said. “I told my parents, ‘They have such a loving community here.’”
Manyok enrolled just in time for the COVID-19 pandemic to disrupt a lot of the first-year experience he expected. Still, he stayed on campus and maintained a positive attitude.
“I had a great first year,” he said. “I met amazing friends, and I know it’s a time I’m going to remember for the rest of my life.”
But starting college during the pandemic meant a lot of online classes, and those proved challenging. “I didn’t manage my time well,” he said. “Being able to run Spring track kept me motivated.”
Athletics has been a life-saver for Manyok. “I’ve been super-disciplined,” he said. “Running, going to practice and going to the meets puts me in a mindset of working to be successful. If I have time to go on a 10-mile run, then I should have time to do an hour or two of homework. I make sure everything balances out.”
When Manyok encountered challenges in the classroom, he sought out academic support services like tutoring. “That was a big help,” he said. “The resources are there for all students. You’ve just got to ask for help.”
Manyok said he is proud to represent Fitchburg State. “I feel like Fitchburg State is a really underrated school,” he said. “I knew right away this was the school for me. Your professors care about you, they’re super helpful. I’m super lucky to be at Fitchburg State. I think Fitchburg State’s really going to set me up for success.”
This story was originally published in the Spring 2022 edition of Contact magazine.