Southeast Christian Church member Wesley Korir, 30, is running well.
Victories mount for the elite marathoner. He won the Los Angeles Marathon twice (2009 and 2010). In the Chicago Marathon, he placed 5th (2007), 6th (2009), 4th (2010), 2nd (2011) and 5th (2012).
His crowning achievement of 2012 was winning the Boston Marathon on April 6 in 2:12:40.
It’s called the world’s most historic race, a long way from the Kenyan kid—one of nine children—who ran barefoot most of his life, slept on the floor of a hut and sometimes did not have enough food to eat. Long distance training may go all the way back to the years he ran five miles to school each way.
Some say he made it to elite status through sheer determination.
Korir begs to differ.
“I am committed to run my race and do the will of God,” he said. “I always run for God. He gets me to the finish line.”
Korir loves to compete and win, but he loves helping others even more. He’s now in Kenya with his wife Tarah, his former teammate at the University of Louisville, and their daughter Mckayla, 2, who has already run a mile. Tarah also is an elite runner in Canada. Both train while there, but Korir’s main focus now is campaigning for political office to represent his district in Kenya. It’s similar to running for the Senate in the United States. His end goal is to run for the presidency of Kenya.
“I believe this is the way to change lives for the better,” he said. “There are so many things to work on, such as making education available for everyone, not just those who can pay school fees. I was one of the kids who couldn’t pay the fees. Kenyans need adequate healthcare, access to learning and churches that are empowered to reach out and transform their own communities.”
Crowds follow him like a hero through Kitale where the family often stays to train and visit with Korir’s family.
He is a village success story.
Korir never has forgotten the old days, when his dad could not pay the $400 annual fee so he could go to school. He easily recalls the years he stayed with a cousin and did household chores so he could go to the University of Nairobi. And he does not forget how God took him to a level he never dreamed.
“I was working out and running in high school when a friend told me that I should find a track scholarship to a university in the U.S.,” Korir said. “That seemed impossible at the time.”
It happened one friend at a time. Korir’s friend, Paul Ering, the 1988 Olympic 800-meter champion who also grew up in Kitale, contacted his friend, who was the coach at Murray State University in Murray, Ky.
He gave Korir the opportunity to study and compete in the United States.
Korir arrived at Murray State in January 2004. But within a year, the track program at the school ended, and he needed to find another program. By then, Korir had titles in the 5,000 and 10,000-meter races. Ering contacted his friend, Ron Mann, the head coach at the University of Louisville.
Mann took Korir under his wing, teaching him about life, faith and determination along with training to win the race. He baptized him at Southeast on Dec. 4, 2005.
Korir still follows Mann’s advice to “run the race for God.”
Giving goes way back.
Korir was still a student, running for the university but also working in the maintenance department of the school when he began sending money back to Kenya.
Korir and his wife founded the Kenyan Kids Foundation that makes it possible for 40 children to go to school, provided funds to open a hospital, helps feed the orphans his mother takes in, funds a clinic and works with farmers on producing better crops.
That is making a difference.
On a recent trip to Kitale with a medical team from the University of Louisville, close to 4,000 patients were treated and six seriously ill children were saved.
“These kids were going to die,” Korir said. “It was fun saving them.”
Since it opened, the clinic now serves about 50 people a day. The Korirs forged a partnership with the University of Louisville that will bring health care, clean water and education to the Kitale area on a continuing basis.
Followed by huge crowds of children chanting “Wesley, Wesley, Wesley,” he decided to take a different route.
“I don’t want to be the hero for the kids,” he said. “I want their dads to be their heroes. In my life, the local priest who allowed me to go to school was my hero. I now know that hurt my dad. My new plan is to work with the men in the community to make them successful so they can pay the fees to send their children to school. That’s why we’ve introduced the farming program. I want them to be the heroes.”
Much of what Korir wins on the marathon circuit is given to his foundation in Kenya.
Wesley, Tarah and Mckayla spend part of the year in Louisville training with Mann, part with Tarah’s parents in Canada and part in Kenya.