Henry Wanyoike -- Conquering Disability and the World
There are many instances of individuals rising above the most devastating circumstances and doing the most impossible things. Henry Wanyoike is one of them. Waking up one day in April 1995, Henry found that he had become totally blind and that is how he has remained even today. His world seemed to have crashed in around him but Henry chose not to be broken by this catastrophe.
He decided to run. Running with a sighted guide, as is the norm, Henry won the gold medal in the 5000 metres for the visually impaired at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, making history as the first African ever to win an Olympic gold medal in that category. A few months later, former President Moi honoured him with the Order of the Grand Warrior Award (OGW) for bringing fame and honour to his country.
The Olympic gold medallist is now world-trotting Goodwill Ambassador for the Standard Chartered Bank's "Seeing is Believing Global Campaign" that seeks to restore sight to a million people. This no-nonsense yet charming young man from Central Kenya has demonstrated on numerous tracks around the world that disability is not inability and that life can go on after the most devastating of calamities.
Most Kenyan athletes tend to concentrate on one or two events, rarely venturing into a third. Very few venture into a forth or fifth. Henry Wanyoike is among those very few who have ventured beyond the beaten tracks and distances. Over the last five years, he has won gold or silver medals in the marathon, half-marathon, 10-KM road race, the 10,000 metres, 5,000 metres and the 1,500 metres. No other Kenyan athlete has ventured so widely and so successfully.
At the inaugural Nairobi Marathon held on November 2, 2003, Henry Wanyoike finished the 10-km road race in just over 30 minutes. His performance so impressed Standard Chartered Bank, the official sponsors of the Marathon, that he was quickly adopted as a Goodwill Ambassador for the bank. In line with the bank's "Seeing is Believing" campaign; the bank has since sponsored Henry for a number of international athletics meetings around the world. Under this sponsorship, Henry has run in marathons as far-flung as Mumbai, Hong Kong and Singapore where, he came second overall with a time of 28 minutes and 47 seconds in the 10 km road race. Earlier, he won the Hong Kong half-marathon outright with a time of 1:10:25. In the first Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon, he came fourth, even after losing the way and having to run two extra kilometres.
Henry has also run in the Boston Marathon, the world's oldest, twice finishing 187th overall in 2003 in two hours, forty-nine minutes and three seconds (2:49:03) and 32nd overall in 2004. Both times he came first in the visually impaired category, even while running alongside foreign guides. His time of 2:33:20 still stands as the world record for blind runners.
In 2004 he won gold medals in at the 5,000 and 10,000 metres in the Athens Paralympic Games, breaking the world records in both events.
Having missed the world record of fifteen minutes, sixteen seconds (15:16) by only three seconds (partly because he had to push his guide for the last fifty metres). For him only the sky appears to be the limit.
At the All Africa Games held in Abuja, Nigeria in October 2003, Henry won the gold medal in the 1,500 metres and is thus the reigning African champion in this category.
The previous year at the International Paralympics Committee World Championships in Lille, France, he made history in his category by breaking two world records (in the 10,000 meters and 5,000 meters) in one meeting. In 2004, Henry broke the world record in both the 10,000 and the 5,000 metres at the Athens Paralympics. In Standard Chartered's Greatest Race On Earth, he has run in Nairobi, Singapore and Mumbai and now looks forward to the grand finale in Hong Kong this weekend.
Without doubt, Henry Wanyoike is one of the most successful and highest-achieving athletes to have emerged from Kenya over the last decade. Unfortunately, his exploits and achievements on the track have not received as much appreciation and publicity as those of his sighted compatriots. Facts and achievements do not always speak for themselves; they sometimes need to be shouted from the rooftops.
When at home in Kikuyu, every day Henry trains three times at the Alliance Boys High School grounds alongside his current guide and age mate, Joseph Kibunja. Occasionally, they change venue and train in the hilly tea and coffee plantations of Limuru Division. When a few minutes can be spared, he counsels the newly blind and their relatives at the neighbouring PCEA Kikuyu Hospital Eye Unit.
At other times, he knits pullovers and other clothing, using skills he acquired at the Machakos Technical Training Institute for the Blind, which is about 70 km to the east of Nairobi. Married with one child, this brave young man is living life as fully as he can in the circumstances and leaving world track records shattered in his wake.
"I cannot adequately express my gratitude to Standard Chartered Bank for what they have done for me over the last years," he says. "They have given me new confidence to face my situation and exploit my potential as no other organisation has done for me."
That confidence has not been infused only into Henry Wanyoike. It has been infused into hundreds of other visually impaired persons worldwide, through the bank's "Seeing is believing" campaign.
(R) thedailystar.net 2006