Fleet Feet Huntsville Employee Helps Kenyan Kids in Africa

07/31/2017 - 16:31

By Chris Welch

chris.jpgHUNTSVILLE, AL — There are many amazing memories I have from a recent Kenya Relief church mission trip to Migori, Africa, but one of the neatest was holding a 5K run for 125 boys and girls 8,500 miles away. Talk about a long-distance run!

I had talked to my close friend and former newspaper buddy Curtis Coughlan, who is a Kenya Relief missionary in Migori with his wife, Devry, about putting on a 5K run for the kids who live at Brittany’s Home of Grace Orphanage and attend the Kenya Relief Academy. Curtis, like me, loved the idea because he and I have always enjoyed running to stay in shape. Going to Kenya, one of the world’s hotbeds for great long-distance runners, I figured it would be something the kids would enjoy doing.

“Interesting idea for a 5K here,” Curtis said, adding, “How bad do you think you and I would get smoked by Kenyan runners?”

Uh, real bad.

Arriving in Migori on June 9, we met the wonderful kids and staff and told them about the 5K we had in store for them the next day. They seemed excited. I know I was. I had packed a superman shirt and cape that friends had given me for a recent “milestone” birthday and figured the kids would get a kick out of it. The only question was would they understand the cultural stuff we take for granted since they aren’t exposed to television, comics, and movies (other than the ones they had on DVDs).

I was happily surprised on race day when I heard one of the kids yell “Superman!” I yelled “Batman!” and the kids repeated them back to me as we walked to the 5K course Curtis had mapped out. If you know the inner kid I have inside me, I was having the time of my life. We did a few stretches, then with the help of my new Kenyan friend Charles, who was my translator, we got the kids to jog in place, do “Frankenstein” stretches, booty kickers, and a few other stretches to get the boys and girls, who varied in age from kindergarten to seventh grade, ready.

I chatted with a group of the boys and asked who was going to win. One point to a friend and said, “Juma.” That young man, Juma Tyson, just smiled and nodded his head when I asked him if he was fast. And who knows, maybe we would see the next great Kenyan running champion.

After a nice prayer, we yelled “Go!” and the group headed down the dirt track that circles the new soccer field. “Superman” decided to be the sweeper, starting at the back in case anybody needed rescuing with my superhuman powers. I was joined by new Michigan friend Ryan Byrd and a few of the boys and girls who were walking. We walked down a narrow road cheering on the runners and dodging what they call “Picky-Pickys,” which are motorcycles that look more like dirt bikes and are Africa’s version of Uber. People who lived in the nearby homes stopped what they were doing — plowing, planting, washing, etc., to take a long look at the spectacle.

children.jpgWe soon saw the lead runner — Juma was far ahead of everyone, smiling — and he was wasn’t the only one smiling. They all passed us on this dusty road with big smiles and high fives, truly enjoying themselves on a hot day. It struck me then, and has always struck me on the international mission trips I have taken, that these kids were happy and have virtually nothing, not a cent to their names. It’s always a very sobering thought for me when I return to the U.S. because most of us are so blessed, yet still not as happy as these people.

To no one’s surprise, Juma won the 5K in a nice time of 18:40, not a record but still fast considering neither Juma nor any of his friends had trained for the race. He, like his friends, smiled broadly when our volunteers placed big medals around their necks.

As the final few kids came in, we realized we were going to be a few medals short. The 120 medals we packed took all the extra weight we had in our suitcases. Three wonderful faces looked up hoping for a medal. Wow, that was tough, but the kids were so polite and disciplined that if they were upset they didn’t show it. We told those three kids they would get a special medal on the next mission trip — and those three medals are on their way to Kenya with my friend Patricia McCarter, who is going there on a medical mission trip with her mom. She will have the joy of putting those medals on those kids. I wish I could be there to see that.

(Editor’s note: Chris Welch is an employee at Fleet Feet Sports in Huntsville, AL. He asks that if you would like to donate that you can go to Story reprinted through courtesy of Fleet Feet Sports Huntsville.)

Top photo: Superman Chris Welch

Bottom photo: The Kenyan kids running joyfully.

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