The tales of greatness are legion, some from this year of 2011 sure to become legend. Yet for all the running success that comes pouring out of East Africa, so, too, are there thousands more humbling stories of dreams stunted, and lives that fall victim to the vagaries of some unknown benevolence withheld.
Athlete agent Gerard van de Veen of Volare Sports in The Netherlands has seen both sides up close. His most famous athlete, Geoffrey Mutai of Kenya, stands at the very pinnacle of racing success as both Boston and New York City Marathon champion and course record setter in 2011. Mutai’s 2:03:02 in wind-blown Boston was the fastest marathon ever run.
Yet within the same Volare Sports stable for the last eight years was another Kenyan runner, Peter Kiprotich Cherus, whose times might not have challenged the great Mutai, (his PR was 2:08:49, Frankfurt 2007) but whose steadiness afforded him a place at the front of many a marathon as both a competitor and an invaluable and respected pacesetter. That reliability, in turn, afforded him a steady income as well.
In his time, Peter helped pace the great Ethiopian champion Haile Gebrselassie to his first marathon world record (2:04:26) at the 2007 Berlin Marathon. In his own name, Peter won important races in The Netherlands, Scotland, and Taiwan, winning the 2011 Kinmen Marathon this past January.
As with just about every top Kenyan athlete, the spoils of racing success were never purely for personal use, but rather were spread to family and friends whose cups were less full, talents less marketable, opportunities less available. Through his earnings, Peter Kiprotich took care of his wife, Shilla Jepchirchir, and their three children, eight year-old Brian Kimutai, and three year-old twins Eric Kipchumba and Marieke Jepchirchir. He also shared food, clothing, medical expenses, and school fees with the rest of his family, and knowing that young running talent required time to develop, Peter provided funds for training and rent money for stints at high altitude for several upcoming athletes.
This, then, was the relatively comfortable (and generous) life of a dedicated professional Kenyan runner. Not a top guy, for sure, but a journeyman who took his talent where it would show well and pay best. Peter Kiprotich Cherus had no illusions, no ill-considered dreams. For his children he saw a future that could well outstrip his own achievements. But dreams can come with a price in Kenya. The future is not a brightly lit road, but a darkly held secret, especially if one dreams at night out on the road. Continue reading