For the last 50 years, Kenya has risen to become one of the world powers in long-distance running in track & field and marathon road racing. While some people speculate that their dominance is a result of genetics or nutrition, people who have spent time living and training among the Kenyan athletes realize that is something more complex. The Enculturated Champion project is seeking to understand Kenyan distance running from a cultural perspective.
Andrew Arnold (Cornell ’13), a former Heps scorer in steeplechase and distance medley relay for the Big Red, will be following a number of Kenyan athletes for this project over the course of the next six months as these athletes get ready to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Arnold will be living and training with these athletes, trying to understand the concept of “catching the spirit” – a phrase often used by the Kenyan elite athletes when asked about their record-breaking performances over the last 50 years.
Arnold was inspired by the Kenyan athletes during the summer of 2011 when he spent 8 weeks in the country to train and conduct research while still a Cornell undergraduate. Upon returning home, he applied and received the National Geographic Young Explorers grant to investigate this further by traveling back into the heart of Kenya’s western highlands, where they will observe, interview, photograph, and film the some of the world’s greatest athletes
Cornell has long had ties to Kenya before Arnold’s project came to light. Ithaca and Eldoret – one of the cities in western Kenya – have been “sister cities” since 2007 through the efforts of former Cornell volunteer track coach Kevin Thompson. Thompson was largely responsible for creating bonds throughout the region by establishing Cross World Africa, which focuses on sustainable change and advancement for the residents. Thompson has engaged members of the Big Red program to visit Kenya and work alongside Olympic legend Kip Keino in the creation of a school in Eldoret.
There have been many other ties between Cornell and Kenya through the years, including Student-Athlete Advisory Council book drives, the Cornell Alliance for Science innovation group supporting environmental sustainability, SAT prep-programs through the international Let’s Get Ready Program, and supporting micro-finance services to Kenyan women who want to start their own businesses.
The story will begin on March 1st, 2016. You can donate to the project through their website: theenculturatedchampion.org
top photo from The Enculturated Champion website gallery; Arnold image from Cornell Athletics