Elderly runners take on world beaters
Posted Wednesday, February 9 2011 at 20:53
Mzee John Chepkwony Chepsuge, 75, runs as if he is many years younger.
At the recent Discovery Cross Country Race in Eldoret, Mr Chepsuge ran the 12-kilometre senior men’s race in 45 minutes.
The winner, Mr Geoffrey Kipsang, who is an elite athlete, took 36 minutes. Also in the race was 60-year-old Julius Lagat who finished four minutes ahead of Chepsuge.
While Mr Lagat has been in action since the 1970s, Chepsuge started running 10 years ago when he took part in a competition organised at the Kipchoge Keino Stadium in Eldoret.
Although he did not make it big in the sport like the stadium’s namesake, Mr Lagat keeps running.
He keeps fit by riding a bicycle for long hours as he looks for chicken to buy and resell in neighbouring villages. He also has a farm in Kaptanyu Village, Nandi County.
Mr Chepsuge says that when he started running against some young athletes and globe trotting runners, the society used to be generous and give him “something as a token of appreciation, but not any more”.
When not attending competitions, Chepsuge farms and tends to his cows in Lower Moiben, Uasin Gishu County.
At the 20th edition of the Discovery Cross Country Race, Mr Chepsuge and Lagat took part in a race that had Olympic 1,500-metre champion Asbel Kiprop and three-time London marathon winner Martin Lel.
As Mr Kiprop was leading the more than 100 runners, Chepsuge and Lagat were among the old people who were struggling from behind to keep up with the blistering pace set by the young athletes.
Many young runners fell by the wayside, but these masters remained resilient to the end in the race watched by top past and current world beaters like world 5,000 metres silver medallist Eliud Kipchoge and World Champions Vivian Cheruiyot and Janeth Jepkosgei.
Athletics Kenya officials Isaiah Kiplagat (chairman), David Okeyo (secretary) and Joseph Kinyua (treasurer) were also at the meet.
In fact, the three officials presented winners with cash prizes ranging from Sh50,000 to Sh1,000 for the top 10 finishers in each of the regular categories.
Modern gym facilities
But the unsung heroes of the sport went home empty-handed. The two are among elderly people who have become an embodiment of keeping healthy through sports for rural people who cannot access modern gym facilities like their urban counterparts.
“I have been running for about 10 years now and I am not ready to quit because it is one way of exercising”, Mr Chepsuge said. Despite his age, he walks upright without straining. He attributes this to athletics.
And Mr Lagat, who looks more than 10 years younger than his actual age, has been running as long as he can remember. “I was running with Kipchoge in those years,” he says.
Mr Kipchoge Keino is one of the most celebrated Kenyan athletes, having represented the country as far back as the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico. At that event, he won the gold medal in the 1,500 metres race.