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Kenyans in Hopkinton   Kenyan runner Catherine Ndbereba is introduced to the cheers of students at Elmwood Elementary School in Hopkinton. (Chris Szechenyi photo)


Kenyans get rock-star welcome at Hopkinton school

By Christopher Szechenyi, Staff, 4/13/00

HOPKINTON -- Chanting "Kenya, Kenya, Kenya," a gymnasium full of elementary school students greeted a dozen of the Boston Marathon's most elite runners this morning.

Walking beneath a curtain of smoke, backlit by a blue light, each runner from Kenya strode into the room to high-pitched squeals from 900 second-, third- and fourth-graders at Elmwood Elementary School.

Like rock stars appearing on stage, the Kenyans greeted their fans to the blaring sound of the Backstreet Boys and other pop songs. With huge smiles on their faces, the ten men and two women from East Africa high-fived the children as they passed through the crowd.

The children stretched and screamed for just a chance to touch each star's finger tips as they waved the Kenyan flag and the American flag side-by-side.

The boys and girls alike simply went mad for the Kenyans. This is the eighth straight year the marathon's lead team has visited the small elementary school in the town where the race begins Monday. Kenyans have won the Boston Marathon nine years in a row.

One by one each team member emerged from the smoke, culminating with the appearance of defending men's champion Joseph Chebet. He appeared as if he were Peter Pan, prancing in joy to the booming sound of "Eye of the Tiger." The crowd went wild.

Later in the ceremony, when school officials gave the athletes various awards, the children were taught how to welcome the Kenyans in their native tongue, Swahili. Unanimously, the children screamed "jambo!"

"The lessons you can learn from the Kenyan athletes will serve you well," Hopkinton School Superintendent Michael Ananis told the kids. Then he turned to the athletes and said, "May the wind be at your back."

When the pomp and ceremony ended, the children gathered around the athletes in small groups and asked them what ever came to mind.

"How is Hopkinton different from where you grew up?" one child asked 23-year-old Jackson Kabiga.

Kabiga responded, "Back home everyone comes and goes by foot."

Kabiga was also asked at what age he started to run. "When I was young, your age, I used to go to school by foot," he told the students. "Running in Kenya is automatic. You people should not use a car all the time."

Another child asked Moses Tanui, a two-time Boston champion, what goes through his mind when he's running.

"You keep in mind what you're aiming at," he responded.

Tanui was also asked what kind of food he eats. He said his diet consists mostly of milk, corn flower and vegetables.

Asked how he feels once he has finished a race, Tanui said, "You enjoy it at last."

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