Douglas Wakiihuri – a Kenyan Olympian on a Mission at the ORC

15 | 8 | 2016

Olympian Douglas Wakiihuri came to the Olympians Reunion Centre by EY in Rio to spread the word of Olympism in action. He has dedicated the last six years of his life to helping others. The former world marathon champion, who claimed silver at the Seoul 1988 Olympic Games before also going on to win both the London and New York marathons, works with disadvantaged children in his native Kenya, training and mentoring kids from the Kibera neighborhood in Nairobi, one of the largest urban slums in Africa.

In that time he has set up the Kibera running club as well as a nursery and primary school that offers children a better start in life by creating opportunities for them to integrate with other communities and gain new experiences through sport. 

“The slum mentality is very difficult to overcome”, said Douglas Wakiihuri. “But when they are given opportunities in a different environment, using sport as a common ground, and offered a better education system, they can become more integrated and see there is more than just the area where they were raised.

“Let’s see what they can show us when given the right opportunities. We must be there for them, give them a hand and direct them. We believe sport is for everyone and we, as Olympians, should work as ambassadors to do that and visit every slum and tap the young talent that can be seen in the children.”

Douglas is supported in his work by his fellow athletes; this year he had 20 Kenyan Olympians attend the 6th edition of the Sotokoto Half Marathon, an event he organises to raise awareness of the plight of children who live in poverty in Kenya and to raise money for youth development schemes such as the schools he helps run in Kibera.

He is also a passionate running coach who counts the First Lady of Kenya, Margaret Kenyatta, amongst his pupils, training her to run marathons so that, through her running, she could fundraise to buy mobile health units for underprivileged areas in Kenya. With Douglas’ help she has so far managed to set up around 40 mobile clinics to support the health of mothers and children in Kenya. The First Lady now acts as a role model for female runners in Kenya and Douglas believes grass roots participation has increased as a result of her actions.

He hopes that in the coming years Kenya will start to see a new generation of kids taking up sport, not because they have been identified as having a specific talent but because their parents see the benefit of playing sport and want them to participate.

He is also a firm believer in the need to provide better pathways for elite athletes once they retire from competitive sport and hopes to be able to work with the World Olympians Association and the Kenyan government to develop education programmes to help with the transition.

Amongst his many ideas is to credit elite athletes, who spend their youth training for and competing in the Olympic Games and other major sporting events, with points towards a university degree so that their hard work and experience in sport can count towards a higher qualification. In this way he hopes to encourage more athletes to return to education once they have finished competing.

“It will give our athletes a much better future. In Kenya it has become very difficult for you as an athlete, even if you are a gold medallist, to sustain your life, your livelihood, after you finish competing.

“I think there is a need for us to see how we can help integrate our education systems with what we achieve in the Olympic Games and create degrees around specific sports so that we can have a better base from which to support our lives after we have retired.

“It is also very difficult for parents to want their kids to run, to compete at an elite level because there is no future security, no financial stability for the athletes once they retire. Yes, I am an Olympian but that does not guarantee that I will be able to support myself. But if I am an Olympian with a degree that is a starting point from which I can start my future career.”