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The aspiring Kenyan Olympic who lives for running: a video account

The squeak of the bunk beds. Tightly laid over the mattresses are clean sheets. Lycra bundles hang on clotheslines bundled together, in direct contrast to the rest of this cleanroom.

St Patrick’s high school is home to 1,210 teenage boys in Iten, west of Kenya. The school is located approximately 350 km northwest of Nairobi, the capital of the country. It has a reputation for academic achievement, athletic excellence, and student discipline.

We pass trees planted by former students who have won Olympic medals, championship titles, or set world records every day when the boys go from their dormitories to the classrooms. From competitive running, all of them. Students are first selected in primary school for their academic outcomes, but Cornelius Kemboi is one of only two admitted students because of running talent. “My goal at this school has always been to be accepted,” he says.

Kemboi is 19 years old. Running has been a long-time part of his life. He did not like the lunch at his school at the age of 10, so he would run the two kilometers home instead to enjoy the cooking of his mother. It took about ten minutes each way for his short legs.

“No one could catch me when we played in school-I was the fastest,” he says with a smile.

Kemboi raced for fun and without any structure or preparation until he was fifteen. Then a talent network scouted him and began to run competitively.

“My parents are very proud, they know I can run, and they’re impressed, they’ve always come to watch me because I’ve always been the fastest.”

His blood is quicker flowing. He has two older brothers who, due to their pace, won scholarships in the U.S. Today, they are models of his role. Kemboi hopes to follow in their footsteps and combine running with proper education.

“I want to be somebody you see all over the world in 10 years. To be a true champion and raise Kenya’s flag. II want to be a good man. Can be admired and looked up by others,” he says, straightening his back.

The best runner here is Kemboi. Getting on his back is a significant pressure. But the first step towards achieving his goal has already been taken. He was chosen for a brilliant program run by Brother Colm O’Connell, ‘ the godfather of Kenyan racing. ‘

In 1976, O’Connell joined St Patrick’s and ultimately became the owner. He has now retired from teaching, but at school, he is still coaching. During the school holidays, he conducts training camps, where Kemboi is part of a group of around 50 young people who practice for six weeks three times a day.

Perhaps the best-known success story for O’Connell is David Rudisha, who won the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympic gold, as well as two world titles. He is the most significant mentor of Kemboi, and he attended St Patrick’s as well.

“I’m not trying to make better athletes, I’m trying to make better people,” O’Connell humbly says.

The lower bunk right before the second plywood separation wall in the center of the eighth corridor is the residence of boy number 6,667. Kemboi lies in bed. His home. His house. A couple of friends are sitting on its bottom, more on the next In the upper bunks, mattresses, and more, their heads peer down. The edge so that they can watch all that goes on below. Using their paws, they hide their faces and twist their heads. The sound of their loud laughter fills the room with the squeaky bed springs.

The party breaks up abruptly, and the mood becomes hectic. Small treats are picked up from the metal boxes, and green school blazers are thrown around the shoulders, and leather shoes are easily laced up.

The boys are in their classrooms. We scout for teachers and canes with wide-open eyes before running as fast as possible past trees planted by former medallists.

Starting at 4.30 am at St Patrick’s first classes. The kids will be busy all day until the last quality finishes at 10 pm. The only interruption to their intense study is tea breaks, three meals, and an hour and a half of recreation, games, or relaxation.

Starting at 4.30 am at St Patrick’s first classes. The kids will be busy all day until the last quality finishes at 10 pm. The only interruption to their intense study is tea breaks, three meals, and an hour and a half of recreation, games, or relaxation.

Bad behavior, failure, or theft was punished with whip or cane discipline. Kemboi doesn’t worry. He’s focused on running and learning.

The wind is calm, and a cloud moves slowly around the already black sky after the rain of the previous day. It’s about 5.30 am. Kemboi runs on campus under the cold streetlights. He stops and waits for the others outside the doors, where darkness starts-five Students have special permission to leave a morning run in the classrooms. They’re going back 45 minutes later. Short of air, before proceeding with stretching and more complex exercises, they take a short break.

We have to take a shower and have breakfast before going back to classes at 7 am. It’s quick breakfast-just a cup of tea and a little piece of white bread.

“We only have small meals, and it’s not enough to keep my body going,” says Kemboi. He practices twice a day, typically for 45 to 60 minutes.

“I get exhausted because I worked all day, even though I didn’t do anything,” he says. “It sometimes makes me very frustrated. I have to consider the food when I’m in school, but we’re eating healthy when we’re in the training camp.

The tremendous historic success of Kenya in running means that many young people dream of becoming the next big star, the prospect of going to Western countries to study on a scholarship. For some, living a life otherwise out of reach is an opportunity.

Aspiring professional athletes plan their entire lives around training innovations in more developed countries. For most people, this is not a choice. In Kenya. They’re off like that of Kemboi.

If his abilities and ability are adequate to gain a scholarship in the U.S. as it was for his two brothers, O’Connell has no doubts.

It’s more challenging to say whether he can meet his goal of becoming one of the next great Kenyan stars. But many have followed the same route on which he is now.


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