April 25, 2012
By Herb Benenson
Linda Oseso couldn't be more pleased that she didn't base her college decision on her first impression of the University of California.
In August 2006 before the start of her senior year at Santa Clara High School, where she became a league champion in the shot put and discus, Oseso drove up to Berkeley with her mother and her best friend for a campus tour. She didn't like what she saw.
"I hated it," Oseso recalled. "It didn't feel like home."
Flash forward about eight months, and Oseso decided to give Cal a second look, this time on a track & field recruiting trip from which she gained the viewpoint of potential coaches and teammates.
"It just looked completely different," she said. "I fell in love with the school."
Given a new perspective during her visit, Oseso soon decided Cal was the place for her to continue her educational and athletic pursuits.
Now almost five years later, Oseso has expanded her horizons well beyond the Berkeley campus, using her studies as a launching pad to serve the community at large, from the local homeless population to women in her native Kenya who need improved access to health services. She is on track to graduate in May with her degree in interdisciplinary studies with an emphasis in global health and society, as well as a minor in global poverty.
Very early in her Golden Bear career, Oseso found a way to get involved. After seeing a video on Cal's Student-Athlete Advisory Council (Bear SAAC) at an orientation for new student-athletes, she decided to join the group since she saw it as a form of student government and a continuation of her leadership responsibilities from high school.
Oseso soon began to rise through the organization and today serves as an officer overseeing community outreach. Not only does she help organize and encourage student-athlete participation, but she also acts as a liaison to outside agencies to set up special events. Among her projects have been a blood drive coordinated with Children's Hospital Oakland, a canned food drive for the
Alameda County Food Bank, handing out sack lunches (also known as SAAC lunches) to area residents in need and assisting with the monthly Hot Meals for the Hungry program at St. Mark's Episcopal Church across the street from campus.
"Giving back to people is rewarding," Oseso said. "You think you could be in that position one day. It makes me happy to be able to share and make them feel that they're important."
One of the requirements of her global poverty minor is 200 hours of volunteer work, either locally or abroad. Oseso chose the opportunity to help in Kenya while she was training and competing over the summer. Born in the capital of Nairobi, Oseso and her family moved to the Bay Area when she was 11 for the educational opportunities available in the United States.
Once she is armed with her Cal degree, Oseso plans to find a public health-based job in the Berkeley area before beginning a master's program. Ideally, she'd eventually like to work both locally and in Kenya to help improve the healthcare systems in both countries.
While Oseso continues to develop her career goals, she expects to keep competing well after her senior season ends in May. Since picking up a hammer for the first time at Cal, she has become one of the top performers in the event in school history, as well as the Kenyan national record holder, with a best of 188-7 from last year's Pac-10 Championships.
From a country known more for its distance runners than hammer throwers, Oseso certainly stands out among Kenyans in track & field. She has represented her country on the international stage at the Commonwealth Games and the World University Games. She also captured the Kenyan hammer title in 2010.
"She wants to be very good," said John Dagata, Cal's assistant coach in charge of throws. "She sees it as a lifelong commitment to be a great thrower from Kenya. You see this incredible fire beneath the smile. I see a real fighter and a real commitment to detail. She's asking all the right questions and doing everything that she can to make herself better."
With her success in the hammer, Oseso has given up the discus, but has kept the shot put in her routine. She also stays busy during the indoor season in the 20-pound weight throw and broke the Cal record three times during the 2012 campaign, finishing with a best of 63-3.25 during her runner-up finish at the conference championships.
But it is the hammer that holds the most interest.
"There are so many technical aspects you have to learn," Oseso said. "And then just the excitement of figuring out the speed and releasing it. You have so many turns, you have to make sure that you're balanced, and then there's the release in the end. And then to see it go far. I actually watch video from my freshman year now and I see how much I've improved technically. I still have a long way to go, but it's exciting to see the gradual improvement year after year."
Oseso hopes to one day represent Kenya in the Olympic Games and understands she needs to continue to increase her marks to qualify and that 2016 is a more realistic goal. Having gone from a best of 167 feet as a freshman to 179 feet as a sophomore to more than 188 feet last year, she is definitely on the right path.
"The hammer is an event that isn't thrown in high school, so you have to find someone who isn't necessarily proficient enough in other areas, but still has a throws mentality," director of track & field Tony Sandoval said. "If you're athletic, it's something that can happen. It's not about being big. You've also got to be very agile to throw the hammer. Linda's thrived under that environment."
As she has with Bear SAAC, Oseso has emerged as a leader on the track & field team. "A vivacious one," as Sandoval calls her, she sets an example for others to follow and has become a cornerstone for the throws group.
"More important than her physical attributes, I see a big potential in her mind and a real commitment to the event," Dagata said. "She is committed to the mission completely. She's a wonderful person. She's committed to doing her best this year and to leave Cal with her best year to date."
Oseso, though, won't be gone just yet when the collegiate season is completed in June. Visits to Edwards Stadium next year and beyond will likely include sights of Oseso training in the hammer throw. And of course, she'll remain out in the community with her ever-present smile finding a way to make life a little better for those less fortunate, just as she has done throughout all her years as a Cal student-athlete.