Richard Rono is a member of two communities—and both have troubles. The Kenyan runner has lived in Albuquerque for about 12 years, and he sees that children in the U.S. struggle with obesity. Back in Kenya, the children suffer serious health problems resulting from a lack of sanitation and money. So Rono had an idea—he will train people here to run and help them lose weight naturally. The money he raises will go to Kenya to build latrines and help prevent cholera and other diseases.
From sprints to marathons, Kenyan runners began winning races around the world in the ’60s. In 1992, Rono took 16th place out of 31,000 people in the Berlin Marathon. He ran the 26.2 miles in 2 hours and 11 minutes. His best time for a three-mile race is 13 minutes and 42 seconds.
When Rono is training for a big marathon—Berlin, Boston or New York—he covers an average of 22 miles over the course of a day, and he runs six days a week. Serious training means between 100 and 120 miles every week on the trails around the city, in the open mesa outside Rio Rancho and on Sandia paths. "It's possible for anybody," he says with an easy smile. "We start when we're young, and that's how we grow and grow and grow. If you accept my training, you will do it. The only thing is the mindset to say, Yes, I'll do it. If you say, I can't, then you can't, and I can't do it for you."
Along with other Kenyans in Albuquerque, he began Gotab Berur about a year ago. The group is starting a summer training camp for people of all skill levels and experience from ages 3 on up. Gotab Berur is also partnering with Global Health Partnerships (GHP) of Albuquerque to host Run With Kenyans for Global Health. Runners in Albuquerque will have a chance to race with more than a dozen well-known Kenyan athletes.
“You're the consumers, but the deliverers, they don't tell you.”
GHP was created when a group of Kenyan basket weavers raised enough money to build a clinic in their area [“Aid From Afar,” Nov. 26-Dec. 2, 2009]. They contacted Dr. Angelo Tomedi, director of Peacecraft—a local nonprofit shop that sells goods made by fair-trade co-ops or individuals—in 2006 to find out how to staff the clinic and supply it with medications. Tomedi also began sending UNM students to the country to learn about international health. The Run With Kenyans event is a fundraiser to pay for an ambulance at the African clinic. Located in Kisesini, the health care center serves 75 villages and about 36,000 people, yet it only has one emergency vehicle.
The sport of running is a business in impoverished Kenya, says Rono, and it’s one that pays. Nike, Adidas and Puma have moved into the country to select and train runners. Rono began running for Nike when he was 28. The company sent him all over the world to win races while wearing its shoes and gear.
Rono is Kalenjin, known popularly as "the running tribe." The Kalenjin make up a large percentage of the athletes winning top honors in foot races globally. The tribe has a tradition of running, Rono says, that goes back many generations. "We have cows and goats and sheep, and we used to move around a long time ago. Every day, you have to move-move-move with the cows. You don't stay in one place. That brings all this running. Herding cows, taking care of the cows from lions and things like that. We were hunters also."
Cows in America are giants, he says, the size of elephants. Our poultry is oversized and the vegetables are grown too quickly. "You're the consumers, but the deliverers, they don't tell you," he says of the steroids and hormones in the American food supply. Americans have money, but they don’t know how to use it, he says. “When we talk about Kenyans, they still have good food there, which is organic food.”
In his free time, Rono likes to watch basketball and American football, though when he first encountered the latter, he thought the way the athletes hit each other was rude. "I've met them, and they're huge. Big people."
Rono is anti-gym. They're expensive—a pair of running shoes costs much less than a monthly membership. The air inside a gym is worse than fresh air, he says, and the machines put you in unnatural positions, straining your joints and muscles. His health message is about trusting your body. When you lose weight, it will tell you what to eat and not eat, he says. "The body was built to take care of itself alone.”