15 October 2017

More and more people here run for fun. Quite a number take it a bit further and run competitively. But when running is your livelihood, it is altogether different kettle of fish.

Gideon breasts the tape in Bangor.

Gideon Kipsang is 29 years old, married with two children under four. He is also responsible for three other children, all under 11, left orphaned after the untimely deaths of his brother and sister in law a few years ago.

He owns just over an acre of land in his native Kenya which he shares it with his three brothers. They rent land adjoining their farm to grow maize and beans as well as raising chickens. But Gideon has one outstanding talent – he can run fast and long.

The man from the Rift Valley first came to Ireland two years ago as part of the Project Africa Athletics scheme run by Omagh man Ciaran Collins. The highlights of his stay was a fourth place finish in the Antrim International Cross Country and winning the Omagh Half Marathon. He returned that autumn and won the Belfast Half Marathon.

With the prize money he was able to buy a batch of chicks which he reared to maturity. It proved to be a lucrative line of farming and one he would like to expand if he can raise sufficient funds to invest.

He was back again last year and ran well in finish fifth in the Armagh International 5K and retained his Omagh Half Marathon title. He returned again in the autumn but was less successful and went back to Kenya with little money to show for his exertions. Unfortunately, he had to use wha tsmall earnings he had for the funeral of his father who died unexpectedly.

Gideon pictured with his two daughters.

Not being part of the Project Africa plans in 2017, Gideon thought his opportunities to run outside Kenya were gone. However, while based in Omagh, he had formed a friendship with members of the Derry Track Club. He had trained with them on a number of occasions and after his return to Kenya, he had maintained contact through the social media.

When the Derry club heard that Gideon was not coming to Ireland this year, they decided to help out by offering him the cost of his return airfare and free lodgings with families of the club. In return Gideon would assist with coaching and represent the club in competition.

“It’s very hard to get someone to take you to Europe especially when we are so many. It’s a privilege,” said the man who has lived his entire life in the Rift Valley. “I was especially delighted because I feel Ireland is like my second home and it also gives me a chance to earn money, not just for my own family, but to help out my mother and father as well as brothers and sisters.

“When I’m in a race and I’m suffering I think of them and what the prize money could do to improve their lives. I went to high school in Kenya and could have gone to university but my father did not have the money. That is my ambition to send my two daughters to university because I didn’t get the opportunity myself.”

The popular Kenyan has already kicked off his Irish autumn tour well with impressive wins in the Belfast Half Marathon and Bangor 10K but unlike other years he is racing sparingly. Next up for the amiable Kenyan is the Autumn Cross Country International in Dublin next weekend and the Spooktacular 5K in Enniskillen a few days later. So the next time you see a comment on social media about Kenyans winning all our prizes, remember why they are here.




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