NCAA Division III promotes itself using three words – Discover, Develop and Dedicate and two student-athletes in University of Mount Union senior Tim Kelly and Denison University senior Dee Salukombo reflect these words.
At first glance it would appear that Kelly and Salukombo might not have much in common.
Kelly was born and raised in Cleveland while Salukombo and his family came to the United States in 2004 as refugees of war torn DR Congo in Africa. The two discovered a common bond in running as teammates at Lakewood High School and a friendship developed.
The friendship continued to develop as the pair went on to run in college – Kelly at Mount Union in the Northeast Ohio town of Alliance while Salukombo at Denison in the Central Ohio town of Granville.
"Dee and I got pretty close my senior year when I started running cross country for our high school," commented Kelly.
Both developed as runners on the college level.
Kelly, an All-Ohio Athletic Conference cross country selection, who was part of a conference championship in 2010 and ran at the NCAA Championships that year while Salukombo is a three-time All-American that capped off his career with an eighth place finish at the 2011 NCAA Championships.
While dedicated to running, Salukombo's dedication to helping his homeland has inspired Kelly.
Last summer, Salukombo raised money for the children in Kriotshe – the village he called home until age 12 – by running 120 miles over three days from Denison's campus in Granville to Lakewood. He has earned a $10,000 grant from the Davis Projects for Peace organization which he plans to use to open the Torrens Learning Center, named in honor of longtime Denison cross country coach, Phil Torrens. The learning center will serve as a resource hub for the community, bringing computers, books and audio/visual equipment to the masses.
"After many interviews with school officials, parents, and students," Salukombo said in an interview at Denison, "it is evident that even though the Congolese are working together to make the educational change that is needed to bring peace in the country, there is an immense lack of learning resources to make this effort successful."
His longtime friend Kelly is now trying to do his part to help.
"When Dee had told me about the grant he received as well as what he plans on doing with it, I felt an immediate urge to help him in any way I could," stated Kelly.
A media communications major at Mount Union, Kelly had planned gallery showing of his own photography work in Cleveland as his senior project but now it has taken on a dual theme.
Industrial decay and the Cleveland skyline are the focus of his project and 15 pieces will be auctioned off in a gallery showing at Market Garden Brewery (1947 W. 25th St.) in Cleveland on Monday, April 23 from 6-10 pm with all proceeds going to Dee and his work.
Kelly, who also will be the marketing director at the family business – Kelly Restoration after graduation, has other plans to help his friend.
"There is a very good possibility I might be joining Dee in Africa for six months, helping out with the school and making a documentary about the whole trip."
Develop, Discover and Dedicate are three words that have always and appear to be staying with Kelly and Salukombo for a long time.
"He had a big part in my successes as a runner," says Kelly. "I can honestly say I've never met a kinder, more selfless person, someone I definitely want to have as a life-long friend."
Story was a joint effort of Mount Union assistant to the athletic director Lenny Reich and Denison sports inforamtion director Craig Hicks