Kirui running for her life
If it wasn’t for running, Caroline Kirui probably wouldn’t have a job back in her native Kenya.
Each stride, controlled breath and day away from her son and husband brings Kirui, 20, one step — one dollar, closer to building a better life for her family.
That is worth everything to her.
Worth boarding a plane, saying good-bye to her family in Kericho, in the highlands west of the Great Rift Valley, living with the isolation of a language barrier and training in the hills of Auburn for a back-to-back circuit of races.
The sacrifice has proved fruitful. So far Kirui has won enough money in races like the Fleet Feet Women’s Festival and Peachtree 10K to cover her travel expenses and bring $1,500 back to Kenya. That will cover rent for awhile ($40 a month), the cost of embassy appointments and a new cow.
Her host-turned-manager Brad Poore, is a professional marathoner and criminal defense attorney for Leupp and Woodall in Auburn. Poore, who has spent time training in Kenya, opens his home to Kenyan runners to provide an opportunity most of them wouldn’t have otherwise.
“For me it’s important to see they are changing their own lives,” Poore said. “There are basically no jobs in Kenya. If you have one, you either own a shop or you are working on a farm. For ladies there (are) a lot less opportunities.”
Many of the major running sponsors, like Nike and Adidas, aren’t interested in sponsoring Kenyans, according to Poore.
“They are not good to Kenyans,” Poore said. “They think they are all the same and don’t take the time to look into stories about the athletes.”
Still, other smaller companies, like AirAide and Luna, have taken the time to look below the surface and sponsor talented athletes.
They see that Kirui is Kenyan to be sure, and fast, yes, but she is also an individual.
On a Tuesday evening at Poore’s home, Kirui takes a little time to show who she is beyond the labels.
Her face lights up at the mention of her husband Weldon, who will be coming next week to stay with Poore and race in the U.S. As Poore teases Kirui about their meeting at a running camp in Kenya, she bashfully covers her face, now beaming with a larger than life smile.
Weldon calls incessantly throughout the day, and in the middle of the night, sometimes half-asleep, just to say, ‘I miss you.’ Her expression does a better job of communicating her obvious delight at the thought of her husband than her English has the capability of conveying.
With hand motions she draws out a rounded pregnant belly in the air and cradles her hands back and forth. Kirui manages to explain that in “two-O-O-nine” she and Weldon had their first baby, Brian Kipkorir. She started running again in 2010.
Kirui is able to say that she enjoys running, especially the 5K and 10K, but more importantly it puts food on the table for her family. One runner’s winnings have the ability to touch the lives of many more people back in Kenya.
“It really is just about survival. Over here if an athlete says, ‘I only run for money’ people look down on that, but that puts food on the table and puts their kids through school,” Poore said. “They are able to change the lives of so many people.”
Tom Long, of Valparaiso, Ind., owns a dietary supplement company called AirAide and founded a non-profit organization, the Kenyan Running Team. Long said his company has benefitted from sponsoring Kenyans. The Kiruis both sport the AirAide logo when they run. Kenyans from the team have won the Houston Marathon and the Boston Marathon.
“They are just beautiful people and they are really impoverished,” Long said. “When I am working these booths at these marathons they are treated like rockstars. People say, ‘can I have my picture taken with you?’”
Long even pointed out that many American runners wear T-shirts that say, “In my dreams I run like a Kenyan.”
Some members of the Auburn running community have also decided to sew a seed into helping Kenyan athletes change their lives. Placer High cross country coach Randall Fee bought Kirui a new pair of shoes when she first arrived in town.
“I actually met her for the first time at Auburn Running Company,” Fee said. “I love supporting runners that Brad brings over here and I love supporting youth running in Auburn. She is just a sweetheart. She is kind of shy, but I still wanted my girls to be able to meet her. I think just being a member of the Auburn running community, we love to help. I’m glad it worked out for her.”
As Kirui gets ready to trade places with her husband, she dreams of one day building a training facility and rental property for runners in Kenya with her namesake.
Poore will continue to train Kenyan runners as he works on training of his own. His next race is the Twin Cities Marathon in Minneapolis, Minn., Oct. 3. He’ll be trying to get his current time of 2 hours, 21 minutes and 14 seconds down to 2:19 to qualify for his second U.S. Olympic Trials. His first was in 2008.
During his time in Kenya Poore was helped by some prominent runners and he has paid it forward by supporting athletes like the Kiruis.
“I have been fortunate to meet some very good people who have looked after me there. In particular, the family of Ibrahim Hussein, three-time Boston Marathon winner and Mbarak Hussein, two-time USA Marathon champion, basically adopted me,” Poore said. “Caroline is still very young so it is hard to say exactly what her potential is. However, she is mentally very strong and also disciplined. A lot of Kenyans do not train well alone because they are used to training in a large group, but Caroline has the ability to push herself.”
Reach Sara Seyydin at email@example.com.