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Running for a cause

Joseph Kibunja, a carpenter employed in rural Kenya’s Kanjeru slums neverimagined a life outside Kenya, let alone one of greatness.

mumbai Updated: Jan 13, 2010 00:37 IST
Purva Mehra

Joseph Kibunja, a carpenter employed in rural Kenya’s Kanjeru slums neverimagined a life outside Kenya, let alone one of greatness.

In the last decade Kibunja has seen parts of the globe he didn’t know existed.

Kibunja owes this privilege to fellow Kenyan, Henry Wanyoike, a visually impaired athlete and record setting marathon runner currently in Mumbai to run the half marathon at the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon on January 17.

The two have been bound by a thread for 10 years, the term during which Kibunja has served as Wanyoike’s track guide. “I was scared and shocked when Henry offered that I run with him. I had no experience. I started training and in about two years caught up with his pace,” said Kibunja.

However, Wanyoike his childhood friend has dreamed of running since he was 12. As a boy he would run to school that was five kilometres from his hutment. But a minor stroke in 1995 left Wanyoike (then 21) with a damaged optic nerve. “I became a champion because of my blindness. It kept me rooted to my dream,” said Wanyoike, who won his first gold medal in the 5,000 metre run at the Sydney Paralympics in 2000.

After his sudden loss of vision neither Wanyoike’s family nor friends knew how to support him. It was in rehab, surrounded by people with other handicaps that Wanyoike gathered the courage to pursue his dream again.

“The first five kilometres of any marathon is the hardest, because I have to get accustomed to the route. I couldn’t have done any of it without Joseph. There is power in partnership,” said Wanyoike, who bagged the gold and broke the 5,000 metres and 10,000 metres world record at the 2004 Athens Paralympics.

While Kinbunja’s senses have to be doubly alert for two people, he also relies on Henry to spur him on through the length of the run. “We have to keep motivating each other. There are many times in the run that our energies run low. Henry is very patient and very determined,” said Kibunja, who considers himself a champion thanks to Henry.

The duo has attended the Mumbai Marathon six times before and has set a target of an hour and 20 minutes for this year’s run. Wanyoike is on a mission to complete as many marathons as possible to be able to raise $20 million for 20 million visually impaired people in 20 cities across the globe.