NYAHURURU, Kenya, May 17- “There's gon' be some stuff you gon' see, that's gon' make it hard to smile in the future. But through whatever you see, through all the rain and the pain, you gotta keep your sense of humour. You gotta be able to smile through all. Remember that.” – Tupac Shakur.
Samuel Kamau Wanjiru, (10 November 1986 – 15 May 2011) a true global sporting star whose tragic end on Sunday night will spur on his legacy even further.
His meteoric rise to global acclaim and spectacular demise eerily echoes revered American rapper, Tupac Amaru Shakur (16 June 1971 – 13 September 1996) whose colourful life was ended by bullets.
He was 25 and Wanjiru died at 24, but despite the year difference, the pair did it all in their young lives, the extravagant talent, the indestructible will to top their game, the drama and finally, their untimely and painful deaths.
Their existence was intertwined by the sad pointer both were tortured geniuses, choosing to express themselves through excellent natural gift and reckless abandon in equal measure. Enigmas who no one, even themselves knew.
To Kenyans, Wanjiru, the former world half marathon record holder who was primed on an attack on the marathon world record in September, is one of the counted symbols of national unity that transcended the fractious ethnic divisions- he brought something close to the ‘Kenyanness’ that his nation of diversity craves for.
Millions stayed up all night or woke up in the wee hours of the morning to cheer him on as he delivered the first Olympic marathon gold to his nation in a record time of 2:06:32 at the Beijing Games in 2008.
“This country has lost a hero,” was all his training partner in Eldoret, Duncan Kibet who enjoyed a run with the fallen star on Sunday morning before he left camp for the trip to Nyahururu that would be his last could say.
Likewise, Tupac was a symbol of urban America’s rise against perceived social imbalances who even though he is not solely credited with the evolution of rap to the mainstream, he is the one who gave the genre the spark that turned it into a multi billion dollar industry.
To the world, Wanjiru was the nearest the globe will see to an almost indomitable ultimate distance runner who at his prime, he had the marathon world in awe and in his feet.
Even the official titleholder of the fastest marathoner in world, Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie did not have the temerity to take him head on, not even with a big pay day on the cards.
From the crushing victory in Beijing, to the gutsy win at last year’s Chicago Marathon, Wanjiru was one of the fiercest competitors of the ultimate distance.
Similarly, at the height of his fame, Tupac was untouchable in his trade as he combined skill and sometimes-ruthless demeanour left his peers in knots.
“As a competitor, few will ever get to what he was. I idolized him when growing up and when I got the chance to train in him, I could see what a true champion is,” stable mate Matthew Kisorio who captained Kenya to this year’s World Cross said.
And just as Tupac spurned millions from his music that ultimately led to self-obsession, Wanjiru’s legs brought him an enviable fortune that fuelled the eccentric life of his ‘gangster’ alter ego.
Tales of the late rap guru’s escapades with women, alcohol fuelled life, flashy cars and property, brushes with the law and sometimes a complete disregard of other people were aped by the late marathoner to the hilt.
“He had his problems but Wanjiru was on the way back to his right path. He had worked hard to regain his fearsome form and he was making a great effort to sort his life,” his coach, Claudio Berardelli said.
Both global icons also possessed an unmatched will to overcome adversity in their decorated careers.
Wanjiru roused himself from serious knee and back injury to win in Chicago marathon last year, beating the form runner of the moment, Tsegay Kebede in a titanic battle of wills.
He also lived through a potentially fatal accident in January when his SUV rolled on the Nakuru-Nyahururu highway and some how, his spouse Triza Njeri and watchman, William Masinde spared him jail time by withdrawing threatening to kill and assault charges they had filed after another drunken rage on the night of December 29, 2010.
The Chicago win in 2:06:24 gave him his highest single pay day in his career as it confirmed him the winner of the World Marathon Majors $500,000 as well as another said $350,000 from appearance fees, winner’s purse and other endorsements.
Tupac survived being shot five times and a jail sentence to record one of his best selling albums, All Eyez on Me, that pushed nine million copies that was penned behind prison walls.
Incidentally, both lived months after they crafted their resounding comebacks.
Despite his excesses, Wanjiru was known to those closest to him as one of the finest people you could meet, especially away from the public gallery, be it on the marathon course or entertainment joints he visited.
His acts of charity and sense of family responsibility dots the Nyahururu skyline.
Parallel sentiments were also fronted in the immediate aftermath of Tupac.
As he lies in state awaiting what will be a fitting send off, Wanjiru’s impact on marathon running world and his legacy can only take the path of the posthumous Tupac, whose music still blares loud on many speakers to date.
A legend gone too soon, one who missed his last hoorah but who lived the full cycle and no one can begrudge Wanjiru his rightful place in the highest pedestal of his sport and nation.
“The way he met his death was not deserving of how he lived but we have lost probably the best ever distance runner we shall ever see,” Berardelli added.
Didn’t they say the same of rap king Tupac?
“Our lifestyles be close captioned addicted to fatal attractions, pictures of actions be played back in the midst of mashin’ No fairy tales for this young black male, Against all odds, though life is hard we carry on, livin’ in the projects, broke with no lights on
To all the seeds that follow me protect your essence.” – Tupac