LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- I knew Wesley Korir was going to win the Chicago Marathon. I didn't even have to make the trip -- even though a slew of people from Louisville did, including many who were part of the remarkable opening of the hospital in his Kenyan hometown a couple of months back.
Now the Sports pages recorded that Korir finished fifth in the Chicago Marathon on Sunday, and they're not wrong. When the morning broke cool and crisp, it was not an answer to Korir's prayers, I know, even though he finished in a personal-best time of 2:06.13, less than two minutes behind the winner. He'd have finished higher, he said, had he not lost focus in the final mile and, instead of concentrating on the person he was running with, concentrated on his own race.
But Korir's greatest victories are not recorded on the Sports pages.
In the run-up to the Chicago marathon, Korir's Kenyan Kids Foundation, and his efforts on behalf of the people in his hometown of Kitale, Kenya, and the surrounding area, likely came to the attention of more people than they ever have. The Chicago Tribune, in a wonderfully written story by Phillip Hersh, told Korir's life story. And through the Tribune Company's wire service, the story spread to even more. He also was featured in the Chicago Sun-Times and on television all over the nation's third-largest media market.
People in Louisville already know the stories of Korir's childhood in Kenya, his heart for people, how in college opposing runners called him "the politician" because he wanted to shake the hand of every runner before every race he ran.
So it was no surprise when Korir told The Tribune he'd like to be president of Kenya one day.
We remember here what happened when he went home for Christmas in 2007 and got caught up in violence after a contested election there, how he was conscripted into a roving gang, watched three fellow runners hacked to death with machetes, then escaped with the gifts God gave him -- his feet -- sprinting into a cornfield and away from the violence. Days later, and I still remember his voice talking about this when I spoke to him some time later at U of L, he would leave his house and insert himself between a man kneeling on the ground and one of his own tribesmen who was preparing to shoot him.
We know his stories. How they wouldn't let him run with the elite runners in his first marathon in Chicago, his two wins in Los Angeles, and his win in Boston earlier this year.
It's a privilege that Wesley has allowed me to tell many of his stories, including the most recent, when he wasn't able to catch on with an Olympic team, and terrorist violence in Mombasa forced U of L's medical school to cancel a medical trip there. Korir was in town just by chance, having driven to Louisville from his wife's parents' home in Canada to talk to a charitable organization here. When he found out those doctors and medical students were being diverted, he worked day and night to arrange for them to be in his village, where he was heading up an effort to build a hospital, an effort he'd brought to life
There's no telling how many people are alive today because Wesley Korir did not make an Olympic team, because of his efforts. Certainly, there are six children who received life-saving surgery that we know of.
Several thousand received care in the weeks the U of L medical school team worked at the hospital, and nearly 50 a day since then.
In truth, Korir probably sacrificed some of his training to work on efforts to bring even more aid to Kenya, an effort that is ongoing through organizations like SOS (Supplies Over Seas), which specializes in sending medical equipment and other needed items abroad.
Korir is a Christian. He doesn't need an iPod when he runs. He sings hymns. It's wrong not to mention his faith in writing about him, because it's not only part of who he is, but now, even part of why he runs.
I remember getting an email from him one day years back, telling me he wanted to know a good way to get rid of all his racing medals. He decided that he was beginning to take too much pride in what he had done in racing, and he wanted not only to eliminate that for personal reasons, but for spiritual reasons, to remind himself of what was important, and where his ability came from. You don't find many people like that.
Kenya has produced more elite runners than you can count. It hasn't produced many people like Korir. And Louisville, a city fortunate to have a connection to quite a few remarkable athletes, will one day, if it doesn't already, include his name among some of the most significant.
He didn't cross the finish line first in Chicago. But for Korir, winning races these days only means a bigger check he can send back home to Kenya. And there's more than one way to win money. The more people hear his story, the more they may be motivated to help him.