Marathon star wisely helps his people with his winnings
Many herald him as one of the fastest men in the world! In 2013, Kenyan runner Wilson Kipsang shattered the marathon world record by 15 seconds with a time of 2:03:23, a record he held for one year.
In 2014, he won both the New York and London Marathons. He won the bronze medal in the 2012 London Olympics and hopes to compete in the 2016 Rio Olympics. He has won eight of the 12 marathons he competed in and is the only athlete in the world to finish five marathons in under two hours, five minutes.
The most significant reason for his speed, Wilson says, is "where I came from."
"I grew up running to school and looking after cows – you have to take them a long distance. In my primary school, I really liked competing in the races.
"I would work hard to make sure I was in front because I'm someone who likes a challenge."
After joining the Kenya Police Service in 2004 he began to train more intentionally.
In 2006, Wilson began training with fellow runner John Komen. This friendship would change Wilson's life.
Every Sunday, John quietly invited Wilson to join him at church. At first Wilson politely declined, but eventually Wilson saw something different about the way John lived.
As John talked about knowing that his sins were forgiven, Wilson listened carefully. John also talked about the peace he felt inside.
"He tried to motivate me," Wilson says. "Then I saw the way he was doing things. This guy, he's doing things the right way."
“You can’t go to church to win a race, or ask God for prize money”So Wilson went to church with John. Eventually, Wilson trusted Jesus Christ to forgive his sins, the way John had explained it to him.
"So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ," Wilson quotes from Romans chapter 10, verse 17.
As they studied the Bible one-to-one and at church, Wilson recalls, "Slowly, slowly, I decided to fully dedicate my life to God. Once I did that, I began to reason in the best way and experience the favour of God.
"I got good results in my life because I began to approach issues the way God would want me to. I know my talent is a gift from God.
"You can't go to church to win a race or ask God for prize money. God wants to see what is in your heart. God's main purpose for me is to worship and glorify His name."
"(Wilson) has inspired me a lot," John says. "What he does is what he gets from the Bible, how a person is supposed to live the Christian life."
Both men then travelled together and ran their first international race in 2007.
Along with many victories, Wilson and his family faced many challenges.
"When I first started winning, I would buy a goat to slaughter and invite my neighbours to celebrate with me," Wilson says.
Then, friends and extended family, who had been so generous to him as he trained, asked him to help them, and he wanted to help.
"If you run well and become successful, many people look up to you," Wilson explains.
"There are things you have to sacrifice. Sometimes you are not present in the family. They need your advice. They need your direction, and you're out training. Many of the athletes' families have really broken up, not because they don't know what to do. It's because of the pressure. It's not easy."
"Now that my name is [famous], there are a lot of expectations from my community. I often ask God, 'What should I control so that I can be the Kipsang you want me to be? How should I do things in the right way?'"
Wilson patiently prayed to God, talked to trusted friends and waited for an answer. Proverbs 19, verse 20 reads, "Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future."
"I really want to give back to the community," Wilson declares.
"A lot of athletes bring money back to assist the country to make a very big, positive improvement in every community. Now I own a hotel and I employ 25 people, and champion athletes come and train here in Iten because of the altitude and good roads."
Wilson is now very much a part of his home community in Iten.
"I don't distance myself from people who don't go to church," Wilson says.
"We celebrate together. I don't want division between the community and the church. If you don't have a good relationship with your community, you cannot assist them or welcome them to church.
"When I go away for a race, I ask my church to pray for me. And if I win, I buy everyone in the church a soda. This gives me an opportunity to invite my neighbours to tell them what God has done, not me."
With winning come disappointments, like having to pull out at the Beijing World Championships in August. "I gave it my all, but the heat got the better of me and I had to drop out [after 35kms]," he told the media.
After a disappointing seventh in a Netherlands half-marathon in October, Wilson was fourth across the line at the New York City marathon in November. Qualification for Kenya's Rio Olympics team will be decided next year. •
Interview and pictures courtesy of Athletes in Action, aia.org.za