Rags to riches
Posted Sunday, April 24 2011 at 18:00
- He worked as a farm hand to get money for training kit and other basic needs, but now, Boston Marathon champion Mutai is a millionaire!
Geoffrey Kiprono Mutai’s script reads like that of most Kenyan world-beating runners - that he overcame hardship to conquer the world.
But the new Boston Marathon champion’s story is not another cliche, and offers a lot of renewed hope to fresh, upcoming athletes.
Born of peasant farmers in Mumberes village of Koibatek District, Mutai’s family could hardly afford sugar, which made him endure sugar-less tea and porridge, a situation that encouraged him to train harder and run faster to earn money from the athletics, just like he had seen many of his neighbours and other great Kenyans do.
It is normal for one to train and get back to tiresome farm duties daily, but it was determination to uplift his “sugar-less” home that slid Mutai into global glory.
The 29-year-old Mutai started running in 1994 while a Standard Four pupil at Tuiyotich Primary School in Nakuru.
As a young boy – and given that he was dreaming of a way to deliver his family from the quagmire of poverty – Mutai had unbridled love for athletics.
He could sneak away from home with his peers, walk to the nearby Mumberes Trading Centre in Timboroa to watch the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games athletics competition, paying what was then a staggering Sh5 fee to follow the Games on a black and white TV set.
“I could watch and then experiment their (athletes’) running styles. I loved it,” said Mutai. “Unfortunately, I did not perform well at the school competitions.”
The first born in a family of 11 says he used to hear of veterans, including trailblazers Kipchoge Keino and Ben Jipcho, on radio and from his relatives and he kept dreaming of conquering the world too.
He sat for his Kenya Certificate of Primary Schools Examinations in 1998 and passed well but the abject poverty in his family denied him entry into secondary school.
“We faced school fees hitches. But we had to accept the situation,” said Mutai on arrival in Eldoret last week after running the fastest marathon of all time in Boston last Monday, clocking 2:03.02.
“I remained with the running option only, and my speciality was the long distance.”
Mutai worked as a labourer on his neighbour’s farms, tilling the land to earn a living and get money to buy his training kit and basic needs to the family.
In 1999, he entered into an agreement to weed someone’s farm and get a passport processing fee in return. He woke up early in the mornings for long runs and returned home to prepare for farm duties.
While mixing the two tasks, locals mocked him and even advised him to discontinue running and instead concentrate on the farms as the workload was hectic.
But the highly religious runner set his sights firmly on putting on the national colours and in 2002, he qualified for the World Junior Championships in Kingston, Jamaica, in the 3,000m steeplechase. But since he never had a birth certificate, his dream to board a plane crash-landed.
In 2004, he picked up a tendon injury that ruled him out for the entire season.
Later, he was fortunate to secure a contract at the Kenya Power and Lighting Company as a general worker in Nakuru.