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Kenny Moore
September 12, 1988
Born in Kenya, nurtured in Japan, Douglas Wakiihuri is an Olympic marathon favorite
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September 12, 1988

A Man Of Two Worlds

Born in Kenya, nurtured in Japan, Douglas Wakiihuri is an Olympic marathon favorite

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From the high, green country around Nyeri, to the west of Mount Kenya, there came a mysterious boy. It is true he was born in Mombasa on the steamy coast, and was schooled in Nairobi, the capital city on the inland plateau, because his mother, Lydia, was a civil servant who worked in various prison offices, but his family home, his Kikuyu tribal home, was always Nyeri, near the mountain. The boy's name was Douglas Wakiihuri, and he felt fatefully moved by the 17,000-foot peak that eternally hides its craggy, broken face in clouds.

"We Kikuyu believe that maybe God lives on the mountain," Wakiihuri would say a few years later, when he was a man. "It could not be more important to us."

As a boy, he was small, with apprehensive eyes. Yet when he smiled, which was not often, one could see many sharp teeth that, once sunk into a task, would be hell to pry apart.

"In high school, I wasn't very social," he says. "I had friends. I didn't see them much. I spent most of my time doing my own things."

He loved the solitude and difficulty of running over Kenya's red earth, be it mud or dust. Yet Wakiihuri's Kikuyu had contributed little to Kenya's magnificent tradition of distance running. The greatest Kenyan runners, such as Kip Keino, Mike Boit and Henry Rono, were of the Nandi tribe.

"Most people say Kikuyu are bad runners, and, yes, the Nandi runners are very good," says Wakiihuri. "But they don't keep running consistently. They train for a month, win their race and then stop to enjoy life. If you can find a Nandi who can keep running, I think he can do wonders."

Wakiihuri persevered and applied to running the virtues of the Kikuyu, working no wonders, but maturing in a society that receives its male youth according to how effectively they master pain.

"When I was 12, I was circumcised," he says. He is aware that these simple words, referring to the rite that signifies the passage from child to adult among his people, cause his listener to flinch. "It's not that terrible," he adds. "It's like your mom asks you one day, 'Do you want to be circumcised?' "

He said yes. And he didn't flinch. "That's the Kikuyu way," Wakiihuri continues. "If you don't do it, you will never be a man. You will be left behind. It was painful, yes, but to live on without it, you would have the same pain, or more, because you would not be a man. You have to know where you are going."

It is likely you will also find the path on your own, with no male hand to guide you along the way. "I can't say anything about my father," Wakiihuri explains. "My mother never told me about him. I do not know him, if he is alive, nor his name."

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