Champion runner visits South Oldham

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By Tracy Harris

It’s not every day a marathon champion shows up at your school. 

But students at South Oldham Middle had the rare opportunity to meet an elite — and likely London Olympian — runner May 10.

Wesley Korir, 29, won the Boston Marathon in April, coming from behind late in the race to win by 26 seconds.

Now, the University of Louisville graduate is back in Kentucky and shared his story with several classes at SOMS, where his former U of L teammate Andrew Hackney is a health teacher.

Korir is highly regarded for his extensive charitable work in Kenya, his native country.

His charity, the Kenyan Kids Foundation, sponsors children to attend school.

“I want to send as many children to school as I can,” he said, telling students it only cost $1 per day to fund a Kenyan’s education.

He is also helping build a hospital in his hometown. 

His younger brother died from an untreated snakebite because the nearest hospital was 20 miles away and the only transportation was by bus.

Korir lived in Kenya until he enrolled at Murray State University at age 18. He transferred to U of L a semester later.

He told students that as a child, he wasn’t always sure if he would eat that day and that he ran 20 miles a day to travel to school.

Students were visibly shocked to hear he had never worn shoes until age 15, and didn’t know computers existed until he arrived in the United States.

In fact, he said he missed his plane to America because he couldn’t figure out the escalators in the airport, then couldn’t open his hotel room door because he had never seen a card key.

But his upbringing never stopped him from dreaming, he said, asking students about their futures.

At U of L, Korir studied biology as part of a pre-med program — he wanted to be a doctor.

But after becoming a three-time All-American and placing third in the NCAA national championship meet in 2007, Korir decided to try running professionally.

He first tackled the marathon in 2008 at Chicago and was denied entry into the elite field.

“That man looked me in the eye and said I was too slow,” Korir said. “And I told him he could not determine my future for me.”

Korir told students about how he started five minutes behind the elite field, giving those men a mile-long head start.

And Korir caught them. 

At that race, he overcame starting from the back to place fourth, securing his place in the elite field from then on.

Not only did he prove officials wrong at that race, Korir told students they offered him an appearance fee to return to the race last year. 

He ran a 2:06:15 that day, placing fourth.

Korir used his running experiences as a way to show students they can overcome challenges in their own lives.

And, he said, they should feel blessed for all the things they do have, because many people in Kenya are not so fortunate.

Korir is currently hoping to make the Olympic team to run the 10,000-meter race in London for Kenya — although he said if his American citizenship is finalized in time, he’ll compete for the United States.

The U.S. will hold its track and field Olympic Trials races in June. Kenya chooses its athletes via a committee selection.

Korir’s wife, Tarah, who also ran for U of L, is hoping to make the team for Canada, her home country.