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

Henry Rono In The News

The Life That Ran Away

Steven Downes - Sunday Herald, June 16, 2007

His latest quest began nine months ago when, tired of lugging around his middle-aged, 16-stone frame at the school track sessions he coaches, he determined that he would return to Europe to race at the World Masters Championships, for athletes of 35 and over, to be staged in Italy in September. But as well as trying to lose upwards of 70lb of unwanted bodyweight, Rono declared that he would also break the mile world record for his age.

Such a challenge would be beyond most men, but in the context of Rono's life as an alcoholic and vagrant these past two decades, if he succeeds, it would represent a near-Lazarian comeback.

"I was killing myself, that's for sure," Rono said this week of his old, self-destructive lifestyle, which had seen him living out of a bottle and sleeping rough, drifting from job to job across America for more than a decade, working 12-hour days washing windscreens in a subterranean car park in Portland, or carrying luggage at Albuquerque airport, for whatever pittance he could scrape together.

Rono was the living ghost that came to haunt international athletics - the fabulously talented runner, plucked from a humble African background, vulnerable to the wiles of European agents and meeting promoters. Other Kenyans who tasted the addictive nectar of running success have since died young and penurious - including world champions Benson Masya and Paul Kipkoech and Olympic silver medallist Richard Chelimo - with alcohol dependency and financial mismanagement suggested as having played a role in their demise. Continued...

Once best in the world, Rono returns to running

John Crumpacker, Chronicle Staff Writer - San Francisco Chronicle, May 19, 2007

Henry Rono was a world-record holder in 4 eventsLike many a middle-aged man, Henry Rono was dismayed to discover he was more than a few pounds over his playing weight, with a concomitant rise in blood pressure.

So he dug his running shoes out of the closet and got to work, work that continues Sunday with the 96th Bay to Breakers, when he will run as a masters competitor.

But this is no ordinary middle-aged man. Nearly 30 years ago, for one transcendent season, Henry Rono of Kenya and Washington State University was the finest distance runner in the world.

In a wondrous stretch of 81 days in 1978 he smashed four world records, setting marks at 3,000 meters, 5,000, 10,000 and the 3,000-meter steeplechase.

The years since were not always kind to Rono, who was boycotted out of two Olympic Games and struggled to find his place once his running career was over. He settled on teaching and has been with Albuquerque's public schools for 11 years.

Not too long ago he weighed 220 pounds, well over his long-gone racing weight of about 140. As a middle school teacher in Albuquerque, he could hardly preach the virtues of exercise to children without getting some himself.

"When I stopped running, I started eating like these kids, too, food that was not healthy,'' the 55-year-old Rono said Friday at a news conference in San Francisco. "I gained weight and had high blood pressure. I realized I needed a good, healthy lifestyle.'' Continued...

Rono not running from past

John Blanchette - The Spokesman-Review, May 6, 2007

He set his last world record in 1981 and won his only Bloomsday in 1982, and at least one of those was done with a hangover – something he acknowledges with neither shame nor pride, but simply with the acceptance of a history that cannot be changed.

Or maybe it can.

Surely it can be amended – wikied, if you will – and so Henry Rono is back in Spokane this morning, charging down the Riverside grade, whistling past the graveyards, making the hard right and slogging up Pettet, as he did back in the day. Only much, much slower.

"I remember 25 years ago like it was yesterday," he said with a smile. "It was so good, going down that last straight and waving to the crowd. That was fantastic."

So give him a wave back today – this champion, this survivor.

This runner.

Henry Rono once again takes pride in that distinction.

"My first profession is sports," he said. "My second is teaching. My ability, my talent of running is something I want to maximize while I'm still at the age I can. I want to use it the right way this time around. Before, I don't think I used it properly because my life was mixed up, with my lifestyle in college, with alcohol, with struggling in the American culture. I understand it all better now."

If so, maybe he can help us understand. Continued...

Rono radio interview

The Canadian Athletics Coaching Centre - April 12, 2007

Henry Rono’s famous assault on the middle distance record books over an 81 day period in 1978 is considered by many to be the greatest athletics performance of all time. In that period, he broke world records in four different events: 3000m, 3000m steeplechase, 5,000m and 10,000m. But his story goes far beyond this phenomenal feat and into a world of alcoholism, homelessness and then recovery. He is now back running after a 20+ year absence from the track and training for the world masters championships in 2007.
In this phenomenal interview Rono discusses growing up in Kenya, his experience at the ’76 Olympics, the destruction of his career and life due to alcoholism and the subsequent road to recovery from it. He also talks about what makes Kenyan athletes so special and reflects upon his incredible life and career. This is one interview any fan of athletics, regardless of event, will not want to miss. Click here for MP3 or Wave File Link

Rono back on track after leaving road to ruin

Guardian Unlimited April 10, 2007 - By Steve Cram

Athletics could learn something from the Masters when it comes to appreciating former greats. Watching the Masters at the weekend I was struck by how reverential the golfing fraternity are towards their former greats. It is probably helped by the fact that even in his early 70s someone like Gary Player can blast the ball out of the greenside bunker to within three feet of the hole and look every inch the part.

Athletics is more cruel towards ageing limbs, heart and lungs diminished through the passage of time and copious dietary indiscretions. One of its greats, however, has recently been receiving attention for his efforts to recapture just a flicker of former glories.

In the late 1970s Henry Rono of Kenya was a bigger draw on the European circuit than Coe and Ovett as they were yet to embark fully on their world record ping-pong. In 1978 he broke four tough world records in 81 days and without the aid of pacemakers. His free-flowing, surging style was remarkable for its ease, but its effects were devastating on clock and competition alike. Continued...

After whisky chasers, Rono chases those records again

London Times April 7, 2007 - By David Powell, Athletics Correspondent

From his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Henry Rono talks of breaking his sixth world record. His fifth was not exactly yesterday — 1981, in fact — when, with a last glimpse of the brilliance that had enraptured world athletics three years earlier, he improved the 5,000 metres global mark for the second time.

Rono had the world at his feet, but his downfall was the glass in his hand. In 1978, Rono went around the world clock in 81 days, setting record figures between April and June in four events. First came the 5,000 metres, then the steeplechase, then the 10,000 metres, then the 3,000 metres. By the time the Nandi tribesman from Kenya was beaten by Steve Ovett over two miles in September, he had put together 31 races unbeaten outdoors that year.

But drink became the opponent that Rono could not beat. Claiming to have been robbed of his wealth by unscrupulous officials, agents and coaches, he descended into alcoholism and homelessness. “I was sleeping on the streets of New York and Boston,” he said, speaking to The Times this week. “I ended up in houses for the homeless and they don’t take anybody — you have to be qualified.” Continued...

Back In The Running

San Diego Union-Tribune March 30, 2007 - By Don Norcross, Union-Tribune Staff Writer

“The lowest point?” Henry Rono said, repeating the question.

He rattles off being homeless for six months in Salt Lake City. No, it was checking into 17 rehab centers for his alcohol addiction.

Or was it blowing hundreds of thousands of dollars, losing jobs, burning friends and spending countless nights sitting on a bar stool, downing his drink of choice, Budweiser?

“I would sit there until they closed the bar,” says Rono, who 29 years ago set four track world records in a span of 81 days. “Every city on the East Coast can tell you that.” Rono, who lives in Albuquerque, N.M., is 55 now. He says he's been sober for five years. He says he weighed 220 pounds last June, grew tired of looking at a man in the mirror he didn't recognize and started doing what he does best.

Run.

He's down to 165 pounds. At 7:05 a.m. Sunday, he'll continue his comeback, racing in the masters division of the 22nd annual Carlsbad 5000.

“Twenty-five years ago, I ran at a high level,” Rono said. “From there, I went down. Ever since, I've been trying to come back. The only way I can get back on my feet is through my physiological achievement. That's what I'm doing now.” Continued...


Life On The Upswing

Los Angeles Times March 26, 2007 - By Jerry Crowe, Times Staff Writer

Henry Rono, once the world's preeminent distance runner and some say the greatest of all time, probably is best known for his mind-boggling assault on the record books in the spring and summer of 1978, when he broke world records in four events over an 81-day period.
"I was ahead of everybody," he says. "I wasn't competing with people. I was competing with time. It was me and the clock."
The clock he could handle.
The bottle, he couldn't. Continued...

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