Henry Rono - A Story of Triumph
An epic masterwork full of great pain and tragedy, and even greater redemption and joy

Who Is Henry Rono?

In 81 days during the spring and summer of 1978, Henry Rono broke four middle-distance world records, accomplishing the most ferocious assault on the track-and-field record books in the history of the sport.

This is what Henry Rono is known for.

However, it is not who Henry Rono is.

Once one knows the whole story of Rono's life with its bouts of alcoholism and intermittent homelessness, his encounters with corrupt coaches, agents, and athletic officials who left both his spirit and bank account broken, his self-imposed but necessary exile from his homeland, and his eventual salvation through his pursuit of a teaching career his prodigious world-record setting reads like a mere footnote to an epic masterwork full of great pain and tragedy, and even greater redemption and joy. One can begin to appreciate him.

Henry Rono was born a poor Nandi boy in Kenya's Rift Valley. After an accident he suffered when he was two, doctors believed he would never again walk. This would be the first of countless obstacles Rono would have to overcome in order to pursue his two life goals: to first become the greatest runner in the world, and then to become the best teacher he could be.

Rono's first goal was accomplished in 1978, when he was considered not only the greatest track-and-field athlete in the world hands down, but also by many to be the worlds greatest athlete, period. His second and greater goal, to become a teacher, was longer in coming.

In many ways, Rono's success on the track served as an impediment to his dream of becoming a professional teacher. Once Rono became a star, everyone wanted to manage both him and his bank account from his college coach at Washington State, John Chaplin, to greedy agents and meet directors, as well as the corrupt Kenyan athletic officials whose boycotts of the 1976 and 1980 Olympics turned Rono's dreams of Olympic gold into Olympic smoke rings. Nobody took (or at least wanted to take) Rono seriously when he said he was more interested in finishing his degree and becoming a high school teacher than in becoming a millionaire runner. Most officials, agents, and coaches involved in Rono's life wanted him to serve as a personal moneymaker, and so they did everything they could to discourage and sabotage Rono's pursuit of an education and his dream of teaching. The corruption he dealt with pushed Rono to twenty years of alcoholism and even occasional homelessness.

When, during the mid-1990s, Rono was sober and ready to return to a stable life and pursue his teaching career, the coaches, agents, and Kenyan athletic officials who had claimed to be his friends and advocates during the peak of his running career had long abandoned him and refused to help him to get back on his feet. The most dramatic anecdote of such abandonment came in 1995 when Rono was looking to find any type of work. The Nike celebrity from the 1980's went to the company's headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon to beg them to hire him to clean their floors. Nike turned him down.

However, as Rono likes to say, he never quit during a race'and through sheer will and tenacity he pulled himself from years of wandering and destitution to become a fulltime teacher who is currently pursuing a graduate degree in special education.

This is the life story of Henry Rono, whose descent from triumph to abyss, and whose subsequent ascent from abyss to triumph, are perhaps steeper than those of any athlete in history.

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