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Nandi County offers lifeline to struggling legendary Kenyan runner

Thursday January 24 2019

Nandi County governor Stephen Sang (left) talks to World Marathon record holder Eliud Kipchoge during a breakfast meeting at the county’s headquarters in Kapsabet on September 24, 2018. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA |

Nandi County governor Stephen Sang (left) talks to World Marathon record holder Eliud Kipchoge during a breakfast meeting at the county’s headquarters in Kapsabet on September 24, 2018. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA |  NATION MEDIA GROUP

ELIAS MAKORI
By ELIAS MAKORI
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The Nandi County Government says it will help troubled legendary Kenyan athlete Henry Rono return back home from the USA where he’s been living for the last 32 years.

This follows a passionate appeal by the former multiple world record holder who told Nation Sport on Monday he was battling illness along with financial challenges and needed to come back to Kenya.

Nandi’s chief officer for sports Kennedy Tanui said Governor Stephen Sang have rallied support for the “Nandi warrior” - who is best remembered for shattering four world records inside 81 days in 1978 - a year in which he was voted the world’s best athlete.

He also won a combined four gold medals for Kenya at the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton (in the 5,000 metres and steeplechase) and the All Africa Games the same year in Algiers (10,000m and steeplechase).

A former alcoholic, Rono claims people took advantage of his romance with the tipple to grab his assets, rendering him almost destitute in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he has been reduced to security guard duties at the local airport.

“We will help facilitate Rono’s ticket as a county government, help him settle and also offer him a role in government, in an advisory capacity so that he can earn some money and get back on track,” Tanui told Nation Sport.

“It is great that Rono kicked away alcohol addiction as he can share his personal experiences to help upcoming athletes in Nandi County to avoid similar pitfalls,” Tanui added.

“The governor and county government will help Rono settle down because despite what happened in his career, he represented Kenya with distinction and you can never take away the world records that he set and gold medals he won for the country."

“We all make mistakes and the important thing is to concede, reform and move on.”

KIP KEINO STEPS IN

On Wednesday, Olympic legend Kipchoge Keino also offered to help Rono get his ticket back home saying he had helped the now suffering legend settle down in USA on a track scholarship at the Washington State University, and didn’t want to see him suffer.

Athletics Kenya (AK) President Jack Tuwei also pledged his association’s willingness to support Rono, noting that he had received several requests from other athletes ready to help.

Thomas Osano, a former elite athlete who was based in New Mexico before returning to Kenya in 1997, said Rono and other athletes, based in USA and Mexico especially, needed help.

“I lived with Rono in New Mexico before I retired from professional running and came back home in 1997. It is not just Rono that needs help, as I know many others in his situation whose voices have not been heard,” said Osano.

“I’m happy that AK President Tuwei is rallying support to have Rono back home.”

Rono was born in 1952 in Kiptaragon village in Nandi County and went Kibirirsang Primary School before joining the army in 1973 after completing his secondary education in 1971.

After a three-year stint in the military, he joined Washington State University on a track scholarship in 1976, studying Physical Education with a minor in Psychology.

The highlight of his career was the 81-day span in which he shattered four world records – in the 10,000 metres (27 minutes, 22.5 seconds), 5,000m (13:08.4), 3,000m steeplechase (8:05.4), and 3,000m (7:32.1), a feat never achieved by any other human being.

What was also outstanding about the records is that he improved the 10,000m mark by about eight seconds, the 5,000m by 4.5 seconds, the steeplechase by 2.6 seconds and the 3,000m by three seconds.

After his graduation in 1981, Rono returned to Kenya in 1984, working in the Ministry of Sports and Culture before returning to USA in 1986 to resume his pro running career, retiring six years later.

FUNDS DRIVE CAMPAIGN

He has never been back to Kenya since, having taken up coaching and teaching, but now living a lonely life that has prompted his friends in USA to start a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds for his upkeep.

“I would like the government to help me get back home as I can’t afford living in the USA. I’m getting old also and 32 years is too long,” the ailing Rono said on Monday.

“He seems very isolated here and it would be hard to rise up from the place he is now. Back in Kenya, hopefully he would be supported and revered by younger generations for his contribution to athletics,” Rich Dafter, Rono’s friend in New Mexico, who set up the fund-raiser, told Nation Sport on Wednesday.

“I live in Albuquerque and have known Henry for many years. I used to help him when he was coaching a group of runners here and I did his website."

“I know that Henry was a legend in running. He has a great heart. He wants to coach runners. He needs to make an income that will provide for his needs and give him financial security and that he deserves all of those things,” Dafter added.

On Thursday, Rono was grateful to Nation Sport for highlighting his plight on Monday and triggering offers for help.

“Now I feel I have a big support because of you, the Press. When the sun is up, I will go to get rent money from my brother thank you for your support,” he said, explaining that he had received an offer for payment of his rent for January and February following the news reports on his tribulations.

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