Bisons run to the hills

ADAM WAZNY -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 9:02 AM ET

If you see school children running through the scenic hills of the Nandi region wearing University of Manitoba gear the next time you're in Kenya, here's how it all came about.

The Bisons track and field team, on the request of the university's Faculty of Medicine and Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation, have donated $2,000 worth of track equipment to primary and secondary school athletes in the South Nandi District of Kenya.

"We want to help any kids involved in track and field and one of the major goals of this group is to keep these kids in school," Bisons track coach Claude Berube said yesterday. "Part of their agreement is a commitment to (stay) in school."

This relationship all came about through Dr. Maritim Songok, who is in Winnipeg to research projects to help slow the development of HIV/AIDS in Kenya.

School administrators in the Nandi area asked Songok to inquire about the donation of sports equipment this past spring, to help curb children from leaving school by giving them an athletic reason to stay with their education.

Songok obliged and with the help Berube (and Greg Gunter of Sport Manitoba), the equipment started to pour in.

While track suits, running supplies, and T-shirts were included in the first shipment Songok brought back to Kenya in October (with a few transport headaches thrown in), the real need was footwear.

"The No. 1 thing is lack of shoes," Songok said. "The conditions are terrible. They often train without any shoes, they just can afford it. It's really a problem in terms of continuing with their training."

Berube said if there's one thing his athletes have a lot of, it's shoes, as old pairs just kind of pile up over the course of a season.

"Shoes we would throw out, they'll gladly take," Berube said. "We're not sending them shoes with holes in them. A lot of our distance athletes will go through three or four pairs a year, so there is still a lot of tread on them."

Berube said the next initiative will hopefully involve cellphones.

The phones will be used to communicate with each other and with athletes in Manitoba via text messaging, as the Kenyan athletes are in remote areas of the country and do not have access to basic communication devices.

With some of the equipment already in place, Berube and Songok hope to see the Kenyan athletes come together and train as a group. Right now, the plan is to have a group of 14 runners get together for "training camps" three times a year -- to properly work on techniques and learn from each other.

Future plans for this Manitoba-Kenya relationship could include exchange programs, to give local track athletes a chance to train in the hills of the African country, and bring Kenyan athletes to the U of M as students.

Berube would love to see that happen -- especially for his cross country program.

"Kenyan athletes, the distance runners, have a reputation of being world class," he said.


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