He struck Kenya’s first gold in 5,000 metres T11 race when the country made its maiden appearance at the 2000 Sydney Paralympics.
Then Henry Wanyoike, whose success story reads like a script from Hollywood, made history by becoming the first Kenyan to win two gold medals in a single event at the 2004 Paralympics in Athens, Greece, winning the 5,000m and 10,000m.
The 38-year-old Wanyoike, who went blind at the age of 21 upon completing secondary school, braved a nasty accident just before the 2008 Beijing Paralympics to win bronze in 5,000m, a medal he treasures most.
Just like the legendary Kipchoge Keino is regarded as the father of Olympians in Kenya, Wanyoike set the ball rolling for Paralympians in Sydney and the country’s runners have improved the tally from one gold, one silver and two bronze medals in Sydney to five gold medals, three silver and one bronze in 2008.
Wanyoike is grateful to God that the ‘Henry factor’ seems to be working in Kenya’s favour after Henry Kiprono Kirwa claimed a hat-trick of victories from the 2008 Beijing Paralympics.
Wanyoike, who is a goodwill ambassador of several international organisations, including the Standard Chartered Bank (SCB) and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), is not hanging up his spikes yet.
The record holder of two world titles over 5,000m (15 minutes, 17.75 seconds) and 10,000m (32:34.31), who is also targeting the marathon title in London, has his sights set on the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Games.
Wanyoike, whose driving motto is ‘I might have lost my sight but not my vision,’ also derives inspiration from one of Reverend Jesse Jackson’s famous quotes; ‘If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it, I know I can achieve it.’
And he believes in himself.
“I never lost hope even when I woke up one morning 17 years ago to discover that my sight was gone,” Wanyoike said. “I almost lost an arm in a road accident just before Beijing Games but I went on to win bronze despite dropping out of the marathon. That’s why I cherish the medal most.”
Wanyoike, who paid tribute to his guide Joseph Kibunja, said he is targeting to reclaim his 5,000m title as he also chases the marathon glory. “Kibunja was my childhood friend and that bond has never been broken even when I turned blind,” said Wanyoike, who hails from Kikuyu.
Wanyoike, who holds the World record of two hours, 31.31 minutes from his Hamburg victory in 2010, qualified for the Paralympics when he won the Hannover Marathon in 2: 44.00 in April this year.
“I am targeting good results and to better my world record to a sub-2:27 to keep it safe for a longer period like the 5,000m and 10,000m,” said Wanyoike, who expects a better showing from Team Kenya in London.
“I was so worried in 2008 but (Henry Kiprono) Kirwa and Abraham Tarbei did marvellous for us. We expect more from them and the rest of the team.” While Kirwa won the 1,500m 5,000m and 10,000m in T13 Class, Tarbei claimed a brace in 1,500m and 5,000m T46.