Sports Sportsin partnership with NESN your connection to The Boston Globe
Boston Marathon Course section

Only chance to take the Kenyans to school

By Michael Vega, Globe Staff, 4/18/2003

HOPKINTON -- In an elaborate school program highlighted by an NBA-like introduction of the elite athletes -- replete with spotlights, smoke, confetti blasts, ear-splitting tunes, and a cascade of balloons -- the 541 students of the Elmwood School gathered in their gymnasium yesterday and welcomed the 13-member Kenyan contingent here for the 107th Boston Marathon. Raising their tiny voices to the rafters, the second- and third-graders in unison greeted the Kenyans by shouting "Jambo!"

That's Swahili for "hello."

"We're very excited, as you can tell, to have the Kenyan runners visit us for the 11th time," said school principal Ilene Silver, who exchanged gifts on behalf of her students with defending Boston Marathon champions Rodgers Rop and Margaret Okayo, both of whom participated in a question-and-answer session with several groups of students.

After they danced and gyrated their way into the school's gymnasium, the Kenyans were treated to the Hopkinton High band's performance and the Elmwood student body's rendition of their national anthem. Third-graders from Tom Keane's and Meredith Kessler's classrooms then performed a routine to the Kenyan children's song "Jambo Babet."

In addition, students learned several Swahili words and phrases in preparation for the visit from their Kenyan marathon heroes.

Jambo: Hello.

Karibu: Welcome.

Havari: How is it going?

And, not to mention, Hakuna matata: "It really does mean that there are no worries, no problems," Kessler said.

"I think getting to actually speak to somebody who is one of the best in the world at what they do is an incredible experience for a child," Silver said. "The children get to learn about Kenya, some of the children even get to learn some of the words and phrases, and I think, for some of these children, it gets them to start thinking about running and what they really can do.

"Members of our high school track team come back on a yearly basis and they're proof that this has really inspired them. Our track team is typically one of the strongest in the state and I have to think perhaps it has something to do with the Marathon starting here and with their experience with the Kenyan runners."

Rop said he was so inspired by his victory in his Boston debut last year (2:09:02) -- he went on to win the New York Marathon in a personal best of 2:08:07, becoming just the fourth runner to win both races in the same calendar year -- that he named his first-born son Boston.

"Boston is my favorite race," he told students, who peppered him with myriad questions yesterday.

In the Q & A session, students inquired about Rop's favorite Kenyan food ("Ugali -- it's a staple food made of mixed flour and water"), how many running shoes he goes through a year ("about 4-5 pairs"), his favorite Kenyan wild animal ("lion"), his favorite time of day ("night -- it's when I was born and when I get to go to sleep"), and his favorite American sports team ("the Nets").

Okayo said she returned to Elmwood, where a Kenyan flag flew alongside the American flag at the school's main entrance, in hopes it would serve as a good omen. Like Rop, she won in her Boston debut, setting the women's course record with a time of 2:20:43.

Yesterday, Okayo and Rop presented Elmwood students with some more treasured keepsakes for their overflowing trophy case filled with gifts from other Kenyan runners. Rop gave the students a pair of autographed running shoes while Okayo presented the school with an autographed color newspaper photo of her visit last year to Elmwood.

"This year, I want to defend my title and I'm happy to come to the Elmwood School," Okayo said. "The children were so kind and they were so nice. I told them to start their training so that they can be strong one day to run with me here."

This story ran on page F5 of the Boston Globe on 4/18/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

Race Day Coverage
Stuck at work? Check out out stride-by-stride webcast for up-to-the-minute Boston Marathon updates.