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Aguta's return is a triumph

Ex-champ gets back on his feet

Kenyan Lameck Aguta, who was victorious in Boston in 1997, has many motivations to once again wear the laurel wreath.

His strong faith is the biggest one, he said, as is his athletic drive and determination. And the prize money is also a factor. But while anyone would understand if he was fueled by anger, that has long disappeared.

Aguta was 25 when he realized his long-held dream of winning Boston, which made him a national hero and rewarded him with $75,000 in prize money -- an immense sum in Kenya.

"It was my dream and I achieved it," said Aguta, who got his start running the hills near his village home of Kisii, near Nairobi.

For three months Aguta rode the wave of adulation, of appearances and product endorsements. Then in July, all that changed.

Just three days after his wife gave birth to the couple's third child, Aguta was driving home to Kisii with $10,000 in cash in his luggage, which he had earmarked to begin a housing development for his village, when his car went out of control and flipped onto its roof.

Unhurt, he was helped out of the car by two policemen who caught sight of the cash in his luggage, which had sprung open. They questioned him, and as Aguta tried to explain that he was the Boston Marathon winner, another man clubbed his head from behind.

Aguta went into a coma for three months and nearly died.

When he awoke in the hospital, the money was long gone, and police were hunting for the four assailants. Aguta, meanwhile, began a laborious recovery, first simply to move and resume an active life, with running again only a distant possibility.

"They thought they'd killed me," said Aguta. "I'm lucky I survived because my wife and kids can still see me, so they're happy."

And that attitude has brought Aguta to Boston today. With the help of God, he said, he was able to find a bright side to his near tragic end.

"I am coming back to do what God has told me to do," he said, adding that he feels no anger toward the four men -- police officers -- who were convicted of the robbery and sentenced to four years in prison. "They will have to meet God, too."

The 1997 race had a familiar pattern, with three Kenyans breaking out of the pack, and then just two, Aguta and Joseph Kamau, matching strides coming out of the Wellesley Hills and into Boston. But in the last 2 1/2 miles, Aguta's strong finishing kick opened up some distance and he streaked through the ribbon in 2 hours 10 minutes 34 seconds, 12 seconds ahead of his countryman.

Now 33, there is little to suggest that Aguta has the peak conditioning and strength to win another marathon, especially since his qualifying time at the Dallas marathon last December was around 2:30.

In fact, Boston officials are somewhat puzzled that Aguta submitted a qualifier, since all previous winners are automatically eligible. But Aguta said the Dallas race was just a trial run to see if he could handle the distance.

"I was not running my hardest," he said. "I was just trying to see how it felt to me. Then I trained harder after Dallas."

During the winter he stayed at his training center in Chapel Hill, N.C, a winter climate that resembles the Boston spring, though Patriots Day weather is unpredictable.

But, "I am ready for any weather," said the 5-foot-5-inch Aguta. "I would prefer it between 55 degrees and 70. But I have trained in all conditions and will be ready no matter what the day is like."

That Aguta is back in the race is surprise enough, but he's not running for nostalgia. Aguta is out to win again.

"I am the same man I was in 1997," he said. "If I have luck and the conditions are right and God wills it, I can win again. If God wants me to win I will win. I can win because [physically] I am back to where I was."

Aguta said he hopes his position at the start lets him begin with the established favorites, but he looks forward to competition with runners he knows.

"There are so many oppositions [competitors] from Kenya and all over the world it is just the same as it was eight years back," he said. "I can run just as I did then."

He calls it a miracle. In 2000, after recovering physically and as his mental faculties returned, Aguta considered running again, just to see if it was possible. A year later, he tried some distance work.

He gradually increased his distance, and built a program beginning in 2002. The gains were minimal but steady, Aguta said, and he had no serious setbacks.

By 2003 he was ready for the marathon distance, and the big test was Dallas.

"I just wanted to see what I could do and if it was good enough, I could start thinking about Boston and training for it," Aguta said. "That is all I have set my thinking on -- Boston."

As for the men who beat him, Aguta said anger would only cloud his mind and interfere with his goal. In fact, he said, his only wish for them at this point, "is that they repent for their sins so we can all go to heaven together."

Meanwhile, he is seeking his heaven on earth -- a repeat trip to the winner's circle Monday.

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