07 November 2005
Racing towards VICTORY
say that running is a metaphor for escape. Though blind, world track
champion and Olympic gold medallist Henry Wanyoike uses running as a
way to race towards his goals and achieve personal glory.
always dreamed of seeing myself with a gold medal and carrying
flowers," the 31-year-old Kenyan said. "It doesn't matter what
background you come from. You can still be a very good achiever and be
Wiry and alert, and though
he may laugh occasionally, Wanyoike does not break into a smile often.
Rather he sits up tense ready for the unexpected to happen. His first
time in Bangkok, he was here to participate in the Standard Chartered
Run which was recently held at Lumphini and Benjakiti parks. The
marathon was divided into 3km and 11km marathons. For the visually
impaired category, runners ran in pairs, with one individual wearing a
blindfold and the other acting as the 'eyes' of the team.
may have lost my sight, but I never lost my vision," he said
matter-of-factly. "I tell people that we need to maintain our vision,
and accept what drives them, and to keep going, because they can all
become champions in their own ways. Keeping my vision has enabled me to
maintain who I am today."
sounds like something from an urban legend: Wanyoike went to sleep one
night in April 1995, but when he awoke the next morning he found
himself to be 95 percent blind. Wanyoike discovered that it was a minor
stroke during his sleep that robbed him of his sight. "I thought it was
the end of me, and that I could never run again. It took me three years
to accept my condition, but only after a lot of guidance," he said.
I was 12 years old I would run from home to school, the distance was
6km one way. I had to run in the evenings, and that led to school
competitions. One time the class representative never showed up, so I
was chosen to run in the 500m school race and I won. Back then I was
just running for fun, but I know whenever I run, [no matter the
occasion], I always feel happy because I am doing what I want to do.
And now I am setting new records, and people see me on TV, so my dreams
are coming true."
It is rare to find
such an extroverted runner, as some of the athletes who participate in
marathons are introverts, enjoying the challenges of competing alone
rather than playing team sports such as football or basketball.
Wanyoike said he had to learn how to open himself up and trust another
individual when he became blind. For the past five years he has been
running with his childhood friend and fellow runner Joshua Kibunja.
When running, the two men are joined together by a piece of rope, 30cm
long, wrung around their wrists.
"When we run together, we are happy, because we know that we're after the same goal," he said. "We're out to win."
the Sydney Olympics in 2000, Wanyoike won the gold medal in the 5,000m
race for the visually-impaired, making history as the first African to
ever win an Olympic gold in that category. His winning streak
continued, bringing home the gold medal in the 10,000m race. Four years
later at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, he broke all world records in
both races in the blind category. Soon after, former President Moi of
Kenya honoured him with the Order of the Grand Warrior Award for
bringing fame and honour to the country.
"Even if it's just the individual who is successful, the entire national feels proud too," he said.
At the All Africa Games held in Abuja, Nigeria in October 2003, Wanyoike won the gold medal in the 1,500m race.
previous year at the International Paralympics Committee World
Championships in Lille, France, he made history again by breaking two
world records in the 10,000 and 5,000m.
you run blind it is visually challenging of course, and finding a guide
is not easy, because you have to develop trust. I wondered how I was
going to run without being able to see, I had so many questions in my
head," he explained. "When you run on your own, you do everything
alone. I have so many scars from running [blind], but it has not
stopped me from running at all. So through running marathons it has
been a good challenge and a good lesson for me."
by Michael Denoma, head of Consumer Banking, to be a Goodwill
Ambassador for the Standard Chartered Bank's "Seeing is Believing"
global campaign, Wanyoike participates in international races around
"Michael was surprised to
see two guys attached together," he said with a chuckle. "That's how we
met [three years ago], at the starting line of a marathon. He appointed
[Joshua Kibunja and I] to be Goodwill Ambassadors, that's how we went
to Singapore with Standard Chartered Bank."
He now travels across the globe volunteering in marathons sponsored by the Standard Chartered Group.
"Seeing is Believing" campaign provides corneal transplants for
underprivileged patients, and encourages the blind with hopes of being
able to see again. With every kilometre run in a marathon, Standard
Chartered donates $1,000 (41,000 baht) to the campaign. Roughly 80
percent of blind individuals are curable, but if they remain blind
without medical guidance there is the chance that they will be blind
for the rest of their lives. In the world at large over 45 million
people are considered blind.
with the "Seeing is Believing" marathon, Wanyoike also participates in
the Greatest Race on Earth (Groe), which is another event sponsored by
Standard Chartered. Groe is an intense marathon that involves four
runners each in four different countries, Kenya, India, Singapore and
Hong Kong, all running together as a team at the same time.
are a way of sending a message to people. In Nairobi last Sunday over
12,000 people took part in the race,"' he said. " I feel like a
different person now too, because I inspire people, so I feel very
With this much gumption and
zest for life, it appears that the sky is the limit for Wanyoike. He
has proved to himself as well as the rest of the world that with
determination and a lot of heart, any individual can conquer disability
"This is my career,
this is my life," he says. "Sometimes I want to give up, but then I
realise that I only find myself by running again."