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Hussein's brother following in footsteps

By Joe Burris, Globe Staff, 4/9/2002

When he was a child growing up in Kapsabet, Kenya, Mbarak Hussein often would gaze out his grandmother's window while getting dressed for school and watch older brother Ibrahim dash against time.

Ibrahim was in charge of ringing the school bell each morning. Trouble is, he lived with his parents about a mile from school, twice the distance from grandma's house, where Mbarak lived. That daily regimen paved the way for a successful marathon career; Ibrahim became a three-time Boston winner and the first African to win in New York.

Yet while admiring his brother's effortless strides, Mbarak Hussein didn't figure he'd follow them. But now, at 37, he is one of the marathoners to watch in this year's Boston field after finishing fifth last year in his first running of the event.

Should Hussein triumph, it would mark the first time in the 106-year history of the race that siblings have won. Following in his older brother's footsteps is one of the things driving Hussein, but he wasn't a runner as a youth, like his brother. Mbarak ran his first marathon, Honolulu, after graduating from college in 1993, the same year Ibrahim, now an official in the Kenya Amateur Athletic Association, retired because of recurring back problems.

Running Boston, said Mbarak, ''was something I always wanted to do, and I knew Boston because of my brother. I welcomed the chance to do it. It's a fun, tough course. I'm excited to be coming back. I've run it before, so I know a little bit more about it.

''My approach will be different this year. Last year, it was the curiosity of doing it the first time. This year I want to do good. This time I'd like to come to really run.''

Not that Hussein needs a win at Boston to establish his own identity.

He has won Honolulu twice in seven tries (1998 and last year), and finished third in 1999 and 2000. He also won last year's Stride for Pride 5,000 Meters and Long Beach Half Marathon. He finished third in the 2000 Philadelphia Half Marathon.

Hussein's rise to elite marathoner is more impressive considering that, as a youngster, his favorite pastime was soccer.

''I never had ambitions in running,'' he said. ''When [Ibrahim] was in high school, he was a runner already. I wasn't. I like running, but I was not the athlete he was.''

Mbarak initially came to the United States, at Ibrahim's suggestion, to earn a business degree. Ibrahim paid his brother's way to South Plains Junior College in Levelland, Texas, and it was there that Mbarak took up running.

Back then, he specialized in the 800 and 1,500 meters, but he switched to cross-country and then marathons after leg injuries in shorter distances.

He transferred to Lubbock Christian University and earned his business degree, but by then he was convinced he'd give marathon running a try. When he finished fourth in Honolulu in 1993, Hussein figured he was onto something.

''I began my career around the same time [Ibrahim] ended his, but it was just a coincidence,'' said Hussein.

Hussein lived for a while in Arizona but moved to Albuquerque, where many Kenyans accustomed to high altitude train. He would like to become a coach and work at youth camps in various sports, but for now, Hussein said running is a full-time business.

''I'm old, but I'm running better than ever,'' he said. ''With my age, I know I don't have much time left, probably a couple of years. But I'm not anticipating retiring.''

Last year, Hussein ran Boston in an impressive 2:12:01, yet he insists his race was for fun rather than tactical.

''The experience as incredible,'' he said. ''The running environment, the fans, the crowd, and the organization.''

His rise is another example of Kenyan excellence in the sport since the late 1980s.

He grew up in an environment in which walking or running long distances is as common as driving the car to the store is here.

''Even though I wasn't running [in competition], I was doing the same thing with just running and walking at home,'' said Hussein. ''My body was built already for running even though I wasn't a great runner. It didn't take so long to catch up.''

This story ran on page F2 of the Boston Globe on 4/9/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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