One year ago, Léa Kerbiriou boarded a 4,000-mile flight from France and landed in Philadelphia, her first time in the United States.
“When I first came here, the only words I said to people were ‘yes,’ ‘yeah’ and ‘hello,’” Kerbiriou said. “But my English has gotten a lot better throughout the months.”
Kerbiriou traveled to Philadelphia to join Temple University’s cross country and track team during the fall semester. Upon arriving, she was astounded by how different the city’s culture was from her hometown in France, and relied on her teammates to help her adjust both on and off the track.
Kerbiriou is originally from Tarbes, France, a small town with a population of 42,000. She has been involved with track and field since she was nine years old, dabbling with jumps and throws until eventually meeting her personal running coach, Brice Leroy, three years ago. Leroy helped Kerbiriou find enjoyment in running, and she still talks to him to this day.
Before coming to Temple from France, Kerbiriou was an indoor track national champion in the 800m run in 2020, and also won the U18 Vice National Title in the 800m in 2019.
While deciding where to go to college, she was recruited by Temple women’s track and field head coach Elvis Forde and women’s cross country head coach James Snyder.
“We heavily recruited and had high expectations for her,” Snyder said. “We knew what she was capable of.”
Besides her desire to join the cross country program, Keribriou chose to run at Temple because she loved the city’s cooler weather and taller buildings, she said.
“I didn’t want to go to a place where it was way too hot,” Kerbiriou said. “I knew the program and team were great, and after a few Zoom meetings with coaches that went along well, everything was good. “
However, when she first arrived in Philadelphia, Kerbiriou found it difficult to adjust because of how diverse and cramped the city felt in comparison to her hometown.
Over time, Philadelphia began to feel like home after she began exploring the city and making friends both in and out of track. As she adjusted to the new slang, Kerbiriou began forming connections with her fellow runners, turning to teammates like senior captain Michelle Joyce for support while training, she said.
“We help each other every day,” Kerbiriou said. “Some of my teammates like Michelle [Joyce] always push me with the long distance runs, she’s a great leader.”
Running with another person was an adjustment for Kerbiriou because she often ran by herself back in France, and was unsure of how running with a group would affect her.
Since joining the team, Kerbirou has enjoyed running with her teammates and says it benefits her training as well.
Joyce and Kerbiriou have used their own strengths to help and push the other in training, despite the two specializing in different events. Back home, Kerbiriou often worked strictly on the track, so long distance running through different trails was new for her, but Joyce was able to help Kerbiriou work on gaining mileage off the track since she’s more experienced in that area.
“[Kerbiriou] is great, we have a really good balance with each other,” Joyce said. “It has always been great running with her.”
During her freshman season, Kerbiriou earned All-Conference honors and raced a personal best 21:51.97 6k at the 2020 American Athletic Conference Championship meet, where she finished in 10th place.
Without the Owls supporting her, Kerbiriou wouldn’t have found success last year, she said.
Kerbiriou sustained a hip injury before her second meet at the Iona Meet of Champions on Sept. 17, she said.
“Unfortunately I got injured,” Kerbiriou said. “However, If I get back in time I am gonna try to qualify for nationals.”