Kipsang’s wisdom

Marathon champion Wilson Kipsang runs to help his people

Wilson Kipsang
LONDON, APRIL 22, 2012: Wilson Kipsang of Kenya passes Westminster during the 2012 London Marathon. (Photo Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

Claiming back-to-back victory in the 2014 New York and London Marathons, Kenyan runner Wilson Kipsang is content for now with his 2012 Olympics bronze medal after pulling out of the Rio Games to focus on other races.

To date, Wilson has won eight of the 12 marathons he has competed in and is the only athlete in the world to finish five marathons in under two hours, five minutes.

He also shattered the marathon world record by 15 seconds with a time of 2:03:23 in 2013, a record he held for a year.

So where did this speed originate?

"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," Wilson humbly explains.

"I would work hard to make sure I was in front because I'm someone who likes a challenge."

“I grew up running to school and looking after cows”After joining the Kenya Police Service in 2004 he began to train more intentionally.

Wilson started training with fellow runner John Komen in 2006, which sparked a friendship that changed his life.

Every Sunday John quietly invited Wilson to join him at church and, although at first he politely declined, things soon began to change.

Wilson would often hear John talk about knowing that his sins were forgiven and about the peace he felt inside.

"He tried to motivate me," Wilson recalls. "Then I saw the way he was doing things. This guy, he's doing things the right way."

So out of curiosity he took up the offer to attend church with John.

"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."

Kipsang poses
London April 14, 2014: London marathon men's winner Kenyan's Wilson Kipsang poses with the trophy. Kipsang won in a course record two hours, four minutes and 29 seconds. (Photo Ben StansalL/AFP/Getty Images)

"(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 generous toward him as he trained, asked him to help them and he eagerly accepted.

"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.

"I really want to give back to the community," he later realised.

"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."?

Interview courtesy of Athletes in Action

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