He ultimately decided that —after visiting his family in Kenya over the summer — he would return to Maryland, where his friends are, and run in what remains of the program in the spring of 2013.
More than $888,000 was raised by supporters — enough to save outdoor track, but not indoor track and cross country. Men's track now has 15 team members – about half of what it had before.
Maryland's Big Ten announcement provoked conflicting feelings in Punyua. University president Wallace D. Loh said at a news conference that the school is now "absolutely committed to begin the process to reinstate some of the teams we had to terminate."
Maryland is not scheduled to begin in the Big Ten until July 2014. Punyua, now a sophomore, is hopeful that cross country — his favorite sport — might return in time for his senior year.
But he said Loh's statement can't undo the events of the past year, which has somehow left him feeling less secure of where he belongs.
"I tried to really not let it affect me in any way," said Punyua, who shares a cramped dormitory suite with four other track team members.
"But it really did impact everything — my running, even academics a little bit," Punyua said. "I was worried about my scholarship and I didn't know what to do. The team has been my family. It was very hard."
He is already in training for the spring outdoor season, in which he is expected to run the 5K, the mile and perhaps the steeplechase, an event he has never attempted before.
But first, he plans to enter a few college indoor meets this winter. Since the school has no indoor team anymore, he would not be permitted to wear Maryland red and would run unattached.
But that track and field phrase — "unattached" — is a misnomer because Punyua won't ever really be unattached. He will always run for his country.
"I should get like a Kenyan jersey with a Kenyan flag on it," he said, brightening at the thought.