The First Kenyan Star

About a decade ago, I was trying to strengthen the Ivy League’s black history content and I spent time looking through names of the past, which often gave me my only clue.

So I came across the name Stephen Machooka, the 1961 Heps Cross Country winner, and I thought, “Hey, that sounds like a name from Africa.”

A quick search revealed that I was right, so I dug on, hoping to have a great story to tell. But then it all stalled. Despite having all the resources of Princeton University available to me, I couldn’t find a mention of Machooka beyond 1964.

I made a post on the Track & Field News messageboard in search of anything on Machooka. More than a year went by and I’d pretty much resigned myself to not knowing what became of the man.

Until one day, I had an email from Denis Machooka. He’d found my messageboard post and let me know that that was his uncle. Sadly, within the timeframe of my post and his finding it, Stephen Machooka had passed away back in Kenya.

But Denis put me in touch with Stephen’s son Musa. For Musa, it was too hard to talk about the sudden loss of his father. He sent me some photos and clippings, but he couldn’t yet open up.

Then, finally, one day I got an email from Musa and he told me about his father. He spelled out the story of his life, but didn’t wander into his own feelings or loss. Too soon.

But his nephew Denis did. “He was my role model,” Denis said. “I really miss him. He is one person who really helped me become what I am today.”

So yesterday, when native Kenyan Edward Cheserek of St. Benedict’s Prep broke the high school record at Van Cortlandt Park, I thought of Stephen Machooka gliding through those hills 50 years earlier.

I posted his story on Please take a look.

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