Beyond the Stats: Wesley Korir

October 10, 2013 at 3:00pm EST | by Sam Grotewold, Marathon News Service

Frequently, studies of well-trained endurance athletes will show a slightly larger-than-average heart, due to the adaptation of the organ as it regulates the larger blood volume associated with intense exercise.

There’s another way to measure the heart, though. This measurement focuses on love, and helping others, and putting the needs of your neighbors first. In this sense, Kenyan marathon runner Wesley Korir has a huge heart.

In 2003, Korir left his home near Eldoret, Kenya, to enroll at Murray State University in Kentucky. After Murray State’s track program shut down, Korir transferred to the University of Louisville, where he immediately made a connection with the school’s new coach, Ron Mann. Korir loved living in the United States, and he told himself he would never permanently move back to Kenya.

But his feelings began to change in December 2007, when, on a visit home for the holidays, Korir was caught up in terrible violence that followed the country’s presidential elections. Korir escaped only by slipping across the border into Uganda, where he remained as a refugee for two weeks before returning to Louisville. It was that experience that prompted Korir to begin thinking about ways of sowing peace and love among his people.

As Korir finished his studies that spring, he began to make a name for himself in the marathon. A pair of wins in Los Angeles and several top-five performances in Chicago paved the way for his Boston Marathon debut in 2012, when he outlasted all comers on one of the hottest days in race history to capture the title.

The financial rewards he reaped from those performances were used to establish his Kenyan Kids Foundation, which now finances educational and healthcare projects in Kenya, including partnering with Ryan Hall’s STEPS Foundation to build a hospital in Korir’s hometown of Kitale, in northwest Kenya.

Korir’s altruism got him thinking further about public service, and last autumn he made the decision to return to Kenya to run for political office. Facing a longtime incumbent, Korir won on a platform of eradicating poverty, becoming the first Independent candidate ever elected to the Kenyan parliament. He now fits his intense marathon training around his “day job” as an elected official.

Korir has moved to Kenya with his wife, Tarah, and their two young children for the duration of his five-year term. He sees improving the availability of safe drinking water in Kenya as the area where he will make his legacy, and he recently returned to the United States to consult with experts on how to deliver clean water to his people. He even got hands-on lessons on repairing the broken water pumps that sit dormant in his district.

“Water is medicine,” Korir recently said. “If you can get clean water, you can get rid of 80 percent of our diseases. Water is the song I’m going to sing for the next five years.”

It’s a song sung with a very full heart.