Korir family photo by Chana Gwynette, EDGE Outreach
LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- Let me give you a spoiler alert for this Olympic story. At the end, you are going to want to cheer.
Wesley Korir, winner of the 2012 Boston Marathon, is not running in the London Olympics. The native of Kenya and former University of Louisville All-American was not chosen for the team by his native country.
Doesn't matter. The best story of the Olympics might not be in London. It may well be in the Rift Valley of Kenya, 8,000 miles away, where Korir grew up running five miles to school -- one way -- along the red dirt paths.
That is where Korir is right now, where he has been for the past couple of weeks. That is where he was when the Olympic Opening Ceremonies were held and the athletes marched into the Olympic Stadium.
Instead, picture another welcoming ceremony. Chana Gwynette, who traveled to Kenya for EDGE Outreach, journaled her time there on its web site. There, she described a welcome to Korir's village, a crowd of people, singing and clapping on their way into a church. At the rear of the procession is Korir, and he is not running. He is dancing.
When he was not picked for the Olympics, Korir was disappointed. Today he is jubilant.
"Not going to the Olympics," Korir said, "I think it is a blessing in the sky."
Had Korir and his wife, Tarah, a Canadian runner, been chosen for the Olympics, they would not have hastily arranged a return to Kenya -- on the run, you might say. They might not have been there for the completion of a mission hospital their Kenyan Kids Foundation helped to fund.
Think about this. If Wesley Korir were in London right now, some 4,000 people who received medical care over the past three weeks probably wouldn't have. People with tuberculosis, malaria, HIV, congestive heart failure, eye infections, parasites and wounds of all kinds. Even some people, sadly, who had to be given the news that they were beyond help.
If Korir were in London, six small children who not only needed specialized care, but someone to pay for it, might still be in serious danger.
But Korir is not in London. He arranged for payment. Three of the children underwent surgery that was life-saving.
A 2012 Olympic gold medal is estimated to be worth about $644 in material. The value of looking into the face of a child your efforts have saved?
"Being able to see these kids smile so widely after getting the help they needed," Korir said in one of a number of emails exchanged with WDRB this week, "makes you happier than any gold medal."
If you looked at the mission hospital in Biribiriet, Korir's home village, "hospital," as we think of the term in the US, is probably not the word that would come to mind. But it is a vital structure in a remote place.
When Korir was a boy, he lost a brother to the bite of a Black Mamba snake. Such bites don't have to be fatal, but they could not get his brother the required medical treatment in time.
When people in this village need medical attention, they must catch a bus to a clinic in Nairobi, a distance of more than 150 miles. Even if they can handle the ride, the cost of the clinic often is too much.
So Korir has worked, building his foundation, plunging many of his race winnings toward the cause. Now with the hospital built, he's about the task of equipping it, with the help of a Louisville company, SOS, Supplies Over Seas, that collects used medical equipment and ships it overseas.
Korir heard about that company while staying in Toronto after missing out on his Olympic chances. When he heard about it, he took off, driving all the way to Louisville to meet with its leadership. On the very day of that meeting, he heard that
some Louisville groups headed for Africa had been forced to alter plans
over terrorism fears. Korir saw that as more than just a coincidence. He
rushed into action to appropriate those groups to come to the hospital
in his hometown.
EDGE Outreach, a Louisville organization, was one of those organizations. As a result of Korir's work, it spent several weeks in Kenya delivering a water purification system for the hospital and community. On its web site, you can see a picture of Korir holding a chlorine generator.
"Something like this, no way you say it was just chance," Gwynnette said. "As it fell together so quickly, all of the events, if Wesley had been picked for the Olympics, or even Tara, she was so close, none of it happens."
Also among the groups were medical professionals from Mercy and Truth Medical Missions, including Louisville's Dr. Bill Smock.
Today is the opening of the hospital's outpatient section. Also today, Korir opened the Kenyan office of his foundation, the first non-profit to open in the area. It will organize the various charitable efforts and offer programs for the needy.
Korir's foundation is sponsoring five families with resources and agricultural instruction this year. Next year, he wants it to be 20. The foundation has increased the number of children for whom it provides money for schooling every year since it was founded.
Korir is not running in the Olympics. But he is running.
"My biggest challenge has been to try to balance my running career and serving the people of Kenya," Korir said. "Both are very time-consuming. I am just trying to let God direct my steps."
These days, Korir finds himself running the paths of his youth. Sometimes the path he ran to school. Perhaps he thinks about late 2007, when he went back to Kenya for Christmas but was swept up in post-election violence, forced into a roving gang of his tribesmen and witness to three men hacked to death before escaping and running away through a corn field. Later, he ran to place himself between a man on his knees and a gunman about to shoot him. The gunman walked away. Korir's family begged him to find a way out of the country, and he did. They told him his running would build a future, that he could use it to help people.
Korir won't run those steps into the Olympic Stadium with the crowd cheering at the end of the marathon in London. In the Olympics, they say, "the world is watching."
In Kenya, the world cannot see. The only cameras recording events are the ones Korir uses to shoot snapshots -- of the foundation building, of the new hospital, of his daughter Mckayla with her cousins, of his wife and daughter in front of the Eldoret home they will live in while training.
But the magnitude of the victory should not always be judged by the size of the crowd.
A final picture of Korir, shared by Gwynette. In this one, Korir stands in a church and begins to preach from Jeremiah, the prophet who wrote, "I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
Korir wanted to go to the Olympics. But sometimes there are better paths even than those we want to run.
"We plan," Korir said in an email this week. "But God directs our steps."
"I am content to be where I am right now," he said. "I am learning every day how God works in ways we can't imagine. I have learned to relax and wait for his plans and it has been an amazing experience."
Korir rarely stands still. Next he is planning to help with funds for an operating room at the hospital, and to establish an ambulance service. In training, he is pointing toward the Chicago Marathon. He wants to establish a permanent partnership with U of L's medical school to funnel med students toward the mission hospital. When he goes to Chicago, all 18 local people who helped with the hospital in Kenya plan to go to cheer him on.
"Wesley is an amazing person," Gwynette said. "What he is doing is really something else."
Many runners dream of gold. But this week, writing from his home in Africa, Korir said, "What we are doing here is a dream come true."