Photo by Joel Pfahler

Why this runner’s community loves him

Judy Nelson Lewis and Tim Pitcher May 15, 2015

Many herald him as one of the fastest men in the world.

In 2013, Kenyan runner Wilson Kipsang shattered the world record for the marathon by 15 seconds with a time of 2:03:23. In 2014, he won both the New York and London Marathons.

He won the bronze medal in the 2012 London Olympics and hopes to compete in the 2016 Rio Olympics. Kipsang, who specializes in long distance, 10K, half-marathons and marathons, tells how he became so fast and the fascinating way he is using his fame in Kenya.

What has assisted me most [as a runner] is where I came from. I grew up running to school and looking after cows – you have to take them a long distance. In my primary school, I really liked competing in the races. I would work hard to make sure I was in front because I’m someone who likes a challenge.

When I joined the Kenya Police Service, I began to train, and in 2007, I got my first chance to race outside of Africa. When I first started winning, I would buy a goat to slaughter and invite my neighbors to celebrate with me.

During my training time [after I joined the police service], I stayed with a friend and fellow runner named John Komen. Every Sunday he would go to church. Me, I didn't go because where I came from, there were no churches around. So he tried to motivate me, and [I started listening to him because] I could see that he's doing things the right way.

In time, I went to church [with John]. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17 NASB). Slowly, slowly, I decided to fully dedicate my life to God. Once I did that, I began to reason in the best way and experience the favor of God. I got good results in my life because I began to approach issues the way God would want me to.

I know my talent is a gift from God.

You can’t go to church to win a race or ask God for prize money. God wants to see what is in your heart. God’s main purpose for me is to worship and glorify His name.

Besides my friendship with John, my relationship with my pastor has really assisted me in growing [in my faith in God] and addressing issues. When I have an issue, I can always consult him. And I call him when I am traveling and we pray together.

Now that my name is [famous], there are a lot of expectations from my community. I often ask God, “What should I control so that I can be the Kipsang you want me to be? How should I do things in the right way?”

I really want to give back to the community. A lot of athletes bring money back to assist the country to make a very big, positive improvement in every community. Now I own a hotel and I employ 25 people, and champion athletes come and train here in Iten because of the altitude and good roads.

The economic impact of a Kenyan athlete is very high. But the career of an athlete is short and uncertain, so I want to invest in the future. The children here are very sharp. They see us training; they watch us on TV working hard. We fly the flag of Kenya high. When we win, we celebrate together so they feel a part of the success.

I don’t distance myself from people who don’t go to church. We celebrate together. I don’t want division between the community and the church.

If you don’t have a good relationship with your community, you cannot assist them or welcome them to church.

When I go away for a race, I ask my church to pray for me. And if I win, I buy everyone in the church a soda. This gives me an opportunity to invite my neighbors to tell them what God has done, not me.

Knowing there are lots of people cheering for me – feeling me in their hearts – becomes a really big motivator for me to keep working harder and harder. We are role models. That makes me want to break the world record [again].

Would you like to know and experience a personal relationship with God, like Wilson?

Originally published at Athletes in Action news.

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