NAIROBI, Kenya Nov 1 – While the international aid agencies do what they can to help impoverished communities in Kenya, one critical source of assistance is generally overlooked – the Kenyan distance runner.
In a country where many athletes do anything within their powers to avoid disclosure of how they spend the millions earned from conquering track and road events worldwide, Patrick Makau Musyoki cuts an odd figure.
The 24 year-old father of one has set out to change the community in which eh grew up.
Escape from a life of squalor is what inspired Makau to run away from poverty through the opportunity presented by athletics. “I wanted to do anything in athletics that would help me out of poverty,” he said in 2007.
“I grew up under a lot of hardship and was only interested in getting a better life. When I started out on the road and saw how much money it brought, I decided to go on. My earnings from athletics have helped my father’s family and improved our lives,” he added at the time as he prepared to represent his country at the World Half Marathon Championships (then World Road Running Championships) in Udine, Italy.
A string of winning performances for the half-marathon specialist elevated him from your ordinary-run-of-the-mill youth from Ukambani to one of the country’s latest members of the millionaires’ club.
However, cognisant of his roots, Makau has taken measures to ensure that a number of youth from his Manyanzwani village, Tala Division, Kangundo District in Eastern Province are actively engaged in gainful employment courtesy of his deep pockets.
Makau’s manager, Zane Branson, estimates that Kenyans scoop some 50 percent of athlete prize earnings from the world’s marathons and that much of it is returned into helping people back home.
Makau’s success has consequently boosted a whole community. “At the moment, there are about 20 young people working in my estate with many more getting opportunities whenever activities peak,” he told Capital website.
His economic interests include real estate, masonry and farming. He is erecting a number of commercial buildings in Machakos and native Tala besides engaging in coffee and maize cultivation in addition to cutting bricks for sale in Nairobi.
Makau is also into dairy farming with his product once again earmarked for the capital.
He started earning good money during the second half of 2007, under the management of Posso Sports, and his winnings, signing fees and Adidas endorsement deal net him well into six figures.
“It’s not money stuffed into a Swiss bank account, its money that’s working for the community,” Branson said.
“I grew up under a lot of hardship and was only interested in getting a better life,” said Makau, whose wife Cathreen works in the military. They have an 18-month old daughter, Christine.
Makau’s income has largely gone to support his and his wife’s extended families. He built a house for his parents and bought plots of land for other family members.
As marathon world record holder Haile Gebrselassie has shown, it is possible to combine training and business and Makau’s first substantial business investment is a 10-unit apartment complex in Nairobi, which he plans to open early next year. This, in turn, provides employment for others.
Furthermore, together with two athletes who inspired him on his way up, Jimmy Muindi and Patrick Ivuti, Makau is involved in a training camp in Kangundo, a neighbouring village of Tala, for developing distance runners.
Muindi, a former Rotterdam and Honolulu marathon champion, heads the camp while Ivuti, the 2007 Chicago Marathon champion, and Makau are his partners.
Hailing from the same area as Muindi and Ivuti, Makau said: “I saw how they had developed their families and how their names were heard on the radio and printed in newspapers and wanted to be like them.” Muindi now employs up to 40 people in Kangundo in various jobs, such as truck driving and horticulture.
Muindi spotted Makau running while in school and approached him to help launch his career in athletics.
Four years after Muindi won in Rotterdam, Makau ran his 2:06.14 debut there last April.
This came two months after his 58:52 at the Ras Al Khaimah half marathon, which remains the year’s quickest for the distance. He has twice finished runner-up in the World Half Marathon Championship (2007 and 2008) and has broken the hour seven times.
Born 2 March 1985, Manyanzwani, Tala Kangundo District, Eastern Province
Lives and trains in Ngong
Manager: Zain Branson
Marital Status: Married to Catherine with daughter Christine
Twice World Half Marathon silver medallist