It’s mid-August and I have just returned from what will go down as one of the most amazing and influential experiences of my life thus far. It was an epic experience void of the modern marvels of mass communication, computers, cell phones and television that we are so accustomed to in our daily lives. I engaged with and got to know amazing individuals, including world class athletes such as Lornah Kiplagat, Vivian Cheruiyot, and various Kenyan runners who are not household names in the United States, but they have quite a large following abroad. I participated in an intensive training camp for distance runners at the High Altitude Training Center located in Iten, Kenya which is just outside of Eldoret. HATC is owned and operated by the aforementioned Lornah Kiplagat. It is an extraordinary place with comfortable accommodations. The food was impressive, and less exotic than I had imagined. Here we had daily turn down service, warm water for showers (providing that it was sunny and warm outside), a gym, a pool and sauna.
While we were there a group of Kenyans my age were training and studying at the HATC in preparation for the application process to American Colleges/Universities this fall. They were part of a program called KENSAP- Kenyan Students Scholarship and Athletics Program. This program interviews and selects the highest achieving student-athletes from the Rift Valley region to test their athletic an aptitude. 12 student-athletes are chosen from an original pool of 100. Those who are invited into the program go on to attend universities in the United States such as Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Williams and a host of top tier academic institutions with equally impressive athletic programs. We spent significant time with these student-athletes. They were incredibly friendly and excited to learn about our culture in the United States. This was a particularly fulfilling time for me because we actually had space and opportunity to hang out with Kenyan teenagers exchanging culture and finding that while we live on opposite sides of the globe, we share many things in common.
Our schedule varied drastically day to day in terms of the amount of work required of us. Some days we spent 6-8 hours painting, teaching, or covering books for schools while on others we had more time to ourselves. However, each day we were up and running by 7am. Breakfast was at 8AM, followed by a service project scheduled for the day beginning at 9:30AM. We would return for lunch midday and then leave for a second session of service at 2PM. Most student-athletes would run again around 4:30PM or 5PM, and then hit the gym until dinner at 7:30PM. I can’t speak for other students, but my friend Adrian and I were in bed by 9PM at the latest. Especially in the first week before we adjusted to the altitude and insane amount of training. I am certain that I have never been so physically active in my life. On my “days off” I ran six miles. That’s more than I’ve ever run during an off-season workout. In the end, I accumulated a total of 200 miles in 19 days of training. That feels pretty good!
I met some interesting people other than just the athletes and foremost among them was Toby Tanser, a former professional runner, now head of a charity called Shoe4Africa, of which he is the only employee. His organization, as well as the story of how it got started, is incredible. Toby spent two hours one afternoon describing to us how he was attacked by two men with machetes and baseball bats on a beach in Tanzania. They wanted to steal his shoes. In the end, they would only manage to take one shoe from Toby. Toby explained that this is why he used the singular in naming his charity. My running partner (Adrian) and I also made friends with a young lady named Gladys and her family who lived along the route we ran everyday. We met Gladys because she went to Kamarin, one of the primary schools we visited, and on one of our morning runs she invited us in to have tea (they LOVE tea in Kenya, almost as much as they love President Obama). She lived in a one-room house made of wood with a corrugated tin roof. The walls were decorated with newspaper clippings and odd calendars promoting a random array of products. Sheets hung down the middle separating the seating area, where we took our tea, from the single bed they all shared. Throughout our trip we were frequently stopped during our run and invited in for tea, or sometimes for huge meals from which we were not allowed to walk away from until everything had been eaten. Before we left we went and said goodbye to Gladys and her family and they gave us their P.O. box number, insinuating that they would be offended if we didn’t keep in contact.
At the close of the trip we drove nine hours from Iten to Massai-Mara. My last two days in Kenya were spent driving around amongst Lions, Zebras, Wildebeest, Giraffes, Elephants, Leopards, Cheetahs, Hippos, Crocodiles, Hyenas and Water Buffalo. It was amazing! I even got to see a Lion take down a Wildebeest, which was worth the long 9 hour trek through the Kenyan back country.
By this point of the experience I was ready to get back home to the United States (to Mc Donald’s in particular) but I would recommend this trip to anyone seeking a challenge who has the willingness to push their mind & body to it’s limits.
As I mentioned, this was an epic experience. I have never run or pushed myself harder than I had through this experience. This has been a summer to remember and I am thrilled to return to Cate School with a new energy, a greater understanding of the world and an experience I expect to continually learn from. What an experience!
Schoolhouse Dorm / Writing Club / Varsity Cross Country / Track and Field