He is best remembered for shattering four track world records in an 81-day blitz in 1978, but Kenyan distance running legend Henry Rono is now a broken man.
Having relocated to the United States of America 32 years ago, in his prime, Rono, now 66, on Tuesday reached out to Nation Sport and sent a passionate appeal:
“I wants a ticket back home, please.”
“Yes, I would like the government to help me get back home by getting me a ticket… I can’t afford living in the USA. I’m getting old... Also, being away from home for over 32 years is too long,” added the legend from his US base in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The Washington State University star alumnus had taken up coaching after his running career, this after alcoholism dented the highlight years of his spell that saw him shatter world records in the 3,000 metres (seven minutes, 32.1 seconds), 5,000 metres (13:08.4), 3,000 metres steeplechase (8:05.04) and 10,000 metres (27:22.47), all within 81 days across USA (California and Seattle) and Europe (Vienna and Oslo).
He later improved his 5,000m world record to 13:06.20 in Knarvik, Norway, in 1981 besides winning the Commonwealth Games 5,000m and steeplechase titles in Edmonton in 1978 and a double gold in the steeplechase and 10,000m at the All African Games the same year in Algiers.
As he recovered from his alcohol addiction, Rono, whose wife Jennifer and two children — Calvin and Maureen — live in Nairobi, took up coaching and teaching in New Mexico but his life having taken a turn for the worse, he is currently a security guard at the Albuquerque airport.
“Yes, I did retire, but these other jobs are stressful and I’m too old,” he said. “Like now, I’m sick from working hard. Many of my fellow Kenyans are dying from stressful hard working jobs,” said Rono, who was given a lifetime achievement award by the International Association of Athletics Federations in 2008.
“I have been given another award in Belgrade but I’m able to attend because of stressful work. Like now, I’m in the bed and I’m unwell.” Nation Sport contacted Jennifer who promised to call back, but didn’t, while the legend’s son Calvin also failed to respond after being contacted on telephone.
But Rono’s daughter Maureen confirmed she had spoken to the legend, and that he has been unwell since last week. “He has been coughing for the last week, and I’ve been in touch with him. If he asked you to send out an appeal for help, you can go ahead and publish,” she said.
Athletics Kenya President Jack Tuwei, meanwhile, said his association would be ready to help the legend.
“He did a lot for this country and we can’t fail to get help for him,” said Tuwei. “We need information such as costs of tickets, who he could be travelling with and other details, and then see how we can support.”