Herdsboy who conquered the world - Daily Nation

Herdsboy who conquered the world

Monday March 29 2010

Kenya’s world champion Joseph Ebuya (centre), second-placed Teklemariam Medhin of Eritrea (left) and third- placed Moses Kipsiro of Uganda with their medals after the men’s 12-kilometre race at the World Cross-Country Championships in Poland on Sunday. Photo/ REUTERS

Kenya’s world champion Joseph Ebuya (centre), second-placed Teklemariam Medhin of Eritrea (left) and third- placed Moses Kipsiro of Uganda with their medals after the men’s 12-kilometre race at the World Cross-Country Championships in Poland on Sunday. Photo/ REUTERS  

By DAVID MACHARIA

An entire nation cheered feverishly as Joseph Ebuya powered his way to win the elusive gold medal in the blue riband 12-kilometre men’s race.

One would imagine that the one Kenyan who would have been cheering loudest on Sunday night was the 23-year-old’s, father, but that was not the case as his eyes were heavy with sleep.

Mzee Nawowuna Long’ole had spent Saturday night battling a herd of elephants on maize plantation in the outskirts of Nyahururu Town.

He only learnt of his first-born son’s performance at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in the Polish city of Bydgoszcz from friends who called to break the good news.

The family does not have a television set and relies on radio reports to know what is happening in the outside world.

The magnitude of Ebuya’s victory has, however, started to sink in.

“We will travel to Nairobi to welcome him back home and also encourage him to aim to do even better to bring glory to the country,” Mr Long’ole told the Nation in an exclusive interview on Monday.

The runner’s mother, Ms Margaret Akuru, was not at home during the interview as she had travelled to Eldoret, where Ebuya lives with some of his sisters and brothers whom he also educates.

Mr Long’ole said his wife would also travel to Nairobi, where they will receive their hero son and a daughter, Alice Aprot, who was also in the team in Poland. She ran in the junior team, finishing ninth.

After receiving the star in Nairobi when the team arrives from Poland at 6.30pm on Tuesday, the party will extend to Nyahururu where Mr Long’ole, a father of eight, will slaughter a goat for the new champion at the modest homestead in Silale Village.

Mzee Long’ole spent most of Monday answering phone calls from family members and friends congratulating his son.

Though Ebuya is the new world champion in the 12-kilometre race that had eluded Kenya for 11 years, a chat with his father reveals a life of hardship and perseverance since the athlete was born in Baragoi in 1987.

Ebuya has worked hard to change the life of his family. After being impoverished and uprooted from their ancestral home by raiders who stole all their livestock, the family trekked many kilometres in search of a new life.

“We walked for long distances and sometimes hiked lifts in trailers plying the Baragoi-Maralal road before we arrived in Rumuruti, Laikipia West, where we stayed for a while,” the athlete’s father said.

Later, the family moved to Mwenje in the same area, then Mchongoi on the boundary of Laikipia and Baringo and later to Igwamiti, where Long’ole was employed as a watchman while the young Ebuya was engaged as a herdsboy.

Later, the family moved to Silale where the father engaged in charcoal-burning. Ebuya would take the charcoal to Nyahururu Town on a bicycle for sale.

The new champion’s cousin, Mr Joseph Lonok, who was in the Army, was the one who first urged Ebuya to start practising with a group of athletes who used to pass by their home during morning runs.

This is how the runner met a renowned coach, Mr Jimmy Beauttah, who used to handle world beaters for the then British athletics agent Kim Macdonald.

The father recalls that the established athletes were helpful to his son as they used to give him training shoes and clothes. Those who saw him in his early days at the Nyahururu stadium recall a young man who used to arrive on a bicycle and at first ran in trousers.

According to Mr Long’ole, the two-and-a-half acres of land the athlete bought for the family is very fertile, but is not giving maximum returns because elephants have turned it into their grazing area.

His effort to have KWS intervene has been futile as the officers only visit and leave without any action.