One of the things that I love about athletics is the athletes. Kenyan Athlete’s Justin Lagat captures one of those moments in the following story about Abel Kirui, two time world champion, Olympic silver medalist, Abel Kirui.
In Eldoret, you don’t look for Olympic and world champions; you just bump into them in the most unusual places you would expect stars of their caliber to be found.
There was a time when I was in a queue to buy meat in a butchery, only to realize that I was standing right behind Mary Keitany. I have once sat next to Eliud Kipchoge and Brimin Kipruto at a restaurant when I was with a visitor in Eldoret and when the visitor, who is a huge fan of running, looked around and recognized them, could hardly believe that he was sitting next to Kipchoge. He requested for a photo with him and Kipchoge granted him his wish.
I once took a young runner for lunch at a small hotel within the town after running in a local race, Geoffrey Mutai came in with another small group of runners and sat at our table. He offered to pay all the bills on our table and the young runner could hardly believe he had just sat at the same table with such a big star.
However, what I just witnessed today with Abel Kirui was quite exceptional.
I don’t usually sit on the back benches in church, but for once, I did that today. As one of the speakers of the day preached, I saw Abel Kirui enter in from the door behind the audience. No one seemed to notice him as he looked around trying to find an empty seat before he found one and quietly sat down. I asked a young man who sat next to me if he knew him, and he didn’t.
Well, it would have been fine if it was just any other of the big runners. But, Kirui was much more than that at this church.
Kirui owns the land where the church stands. The church is inside a larger compound where a private school belonging to the two times world champion occupies and he donated the portion of land for the community to build the church. The name of the school is not Abel Kirui, as most people would easily name the schools they own under their names. Great Joy Academy is the name of the school.
At some point, visitors were asked to stand up greet the congregation. I expected him, having just come back into the country from Kolkata, India where he had participated in a 25km race, to stand up. But while visitors from nearby stood up, he didn’t. It was not until someone recognized him and asked him to stand and greet the church that he did so.
For the world titles he holds, the senior police rank title he holds in the Kenyan police, being the owner and the director of the school where the church stood, I could hardly believe that he could just sneak in just like that without a special welcome for him and a special chair being offered to him at the front row!
But, that is just how it goes for most of the Kenyan runners.