DOHA, Qatar, Aug 28 – Kenyan security guard Michael Douglas Ongeri has a dream — and won’t be daunted by poverty, a 13-hour workday or training in Qatar’s searing heat, far from his family.
Nor will he let the 11 kilometres (seven miles) he has to walk from work to the track then back home slow him down.
“You get used to it,” Ongeri tells AFP matter-of-factly. “I have to do it, it is something which is me, I like running, I have to run.”
While many dream of becoming an international track star, the 22-year-old Kenyan may actually have a chance.
Six days a week, he leaves work around 5pm and heads to Doha’s biggest park, Aspire Park, in the shadow of the city’s Khalifa Stadium that will host the World Athletics Championship in 2019.
In temperatures of over 40 degrees C (104 F) and stifling humidity, the Kenyan puts on his training gear and, sweat pouring, runs up to 12 kilometres (seven miles) through Aspire’s green expanses.
If it is close to his pay day – Sh38,500 (1,400 Qatari Riyals) a month – it is possible Ongeri will go without food as he has no cash left, sleep for five hours in a room he shares with five others and then start all over again.
“He is talented and I think he could achieve his dream as a 1,500metre/5,000m runner,” says former athlete Liz McColgan who with her husband, John Nuttall, founded and runs the Doha Athletics Club (DAC).
The couple help Ongeri train twice a week.
– Tough beginnings –
And as a former 10,000m world champion, silver medallist at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and winner of the New York and London Marathons whose husband competed in the 1996 Olympics and whose daughter just ran in the 5,000m final in Rio, McColgan’s opinion carries weight.
“He has a really good running style so I could see him being a better track runner,” says McColgan who has been based in Qatar for the past two-and-a-half years.
“I met Michael when he sent me an email to the DAC website but I had seen him training alone at the park where we train, as it was unusual to see someone running so fast on his own,” says McColgan.
On the night AFP watches him train, Ongeri is surrounded by younger members of the club as Nuttall barks out instructions.
“Come on Michael! Stop being so lazy!” he jokes as the security guard speeds at a pace that marks him out from the other runners.
“Madame Liz”, as Ongeri calls McColgan, worries that any hopes he has of competing professionally could be scuppered by his lack of time to train.
“Unfortunately he works ridiculous hours so can only run once a day,” she says. “If he wanted to race internationally you need twice a day.”
Ongeri grew up poor in Kenya’s Nyanza Province and always loved running. But as the oldest son of five siblings, his duty was to his family, not his passion.
– ‘I will make it’ –
“My background wasn’t good, I faced hardship. I had to feed my family,” he says.
He ended up working on the same farm as his father and mother but word of a job in Qatar offered a chance to earn more money and to run as well.
To secure his passage to the Gulf he paid an agent around Sh100,000 – cash he did not have but borrowed from an Italian boss at a shop where he worked in Kenya.
Three years on and he has just repaid the loan and with the cash he sends to his family Ongeri survives in Doha on around Sh10,000 each month.
“Of course, now everybody (back home) is looking at me — ‘Please, I need this. Please I need that.’ It’s difficult, Doha is a very expensive place.”
As the temperature finally dips below 40 degrees, Ongeri has an hour’s running behind him and a three kilometre walk home ahead.
It may be a short distance from Aspire Park to Khalifa Stadium but it would represent a lifetime’s ambition if Ongeri one day ends up running there
“This is my dream, I will make it,” he says.