Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Remembering Wesly Ngetich's Short Life

In the wake of Wesly Ngetich's violent death on Monday in Kenya, we thought it would be fitting to remember the two-time Grandma's Marathon champion's life with someone who knew him well. We asked his agent, Hussein Makke, to tell us a something about Ngetich's life in Kenya and his career as a professional runner.

We especially enjoyed Makke's story of Ngetich's 2006, night-before-the-race switch -- unbeknownst to his agent -- from Houston's half-marathon to its marathon. It was there that Ngetich ran his 2:12:10 marathon PR.

More soberingly, Makke told us he learned today from Ngetich's uncle that the marathon star (pictured) was ambushed at close range by Masai tribesmen. Three women and another man were killed in the same attack.

Here is our full interview with Makke ...

DtB: Where in Kenya was Wesly born?

Hussein Makke: He was born in Trans Mara on December 15, 1977

DtB: How did Wesly get his start as a runner?

Makke: I don't think Wesly ran in school; he started running in the late 90's as a way to earn a living

DtB: Were there others in his family that ran? Was his area known for producing great runners?

Makke: No one in his family runs; his area is a little far from the Rift Valley -- Iten and Eldoret areas, which are famous for producing world class runners.

DtB: When did Wesly first attract your notice?

Makke: In 2002, Wesly was training near my training camp in Nyahururu where he rented a small house to live with friends in an area where running is very popular It was more convenient for him than training in his hometown.

DtB: How did his international career get started?

Makke: He ran the Nairobi Standard Chartered Marathon in 2004, where I think he finished 4th; he wasn't training for the marathon -- he was just testing himself and wanted to make some money; after this, he ran his 1st international race in the 2005 Los Angeles Marathon, where he finished 5th.

DtB: Was he always a marathoner or did he have some cross country and track success too?

Makke: He did not compete in cross country or track; he ran some shorter road races in Kenya but never had a background of running in school so he just competed in road races and went straight to the marathon

DtB: What can you tell us about Wesly's farm and his family?

Makke: What I know is that he is married and has three children. He recently married another wife and there are no children from his 2nd wife; during his international career racing, he made some decent money and bought a new house -- of course, he bought more cows and land for farming. When I was in Kenya this past December, I was joking with him and asked him if he was recognized as a big man in his home town and he said not yet, he has to own 1000 cows or more to be recognized and he is not even close. His aim was to be well recognized in his hometown and provide for his family.

DtB: What made him such a successful marathoner?

Makke: He was super talented and I don't think he ever achieved his full potential. He had too much energy and he was not able to manage his energy properly. Wesly was a front runner and made some mistakes in racing when he broke away too early, only to fade in the final miles because he was impatient. He often rushed since he knew he was in good shape and had a lot of talent but he wasn't able to be patient.

What made him successful is his great personality. He never worried about anything. In 2006, he was supposed to run the half marathon in Houston and asked the race director the night before to switch him to the marathon. I wasn't there since I was in Kenya. He didn't prepare for the marathon but he adapted well and ran his personal best of 2:12:10 and finished 2nd there. His success is his talent and his ability to adapt and adjust to any situation.

DtB: What was he aiming for going into the 2008 season?

Makke: After we met last month in Kenya, he told me he was hoping to win the P.F. Chang's Rock-n-Roll Marathon in Phoenix (which he didn't come for) and then come back to Duluth to defend his title and be the only runner ever to win Grandma's three times.

DtB: He was unable to attend the Rock 'n' Roll marathon due to the post-election strife. What had he told you about conditions in his area prior to his death.

Makke: I did not speak to him directly but from what I heard, fighting broke out in his hometown and roads were closed so he was not able to train or travel.

DtB: Have you learned any more details about Wesly's death?

Makke: Today I heard from my guys who spoke to Wesly's uncle that he was ambushed by the Masai tribe and he was shot from close range in the chest with an arrow (40 meters away) so this is why it was so deadly. There were 3 women and one other man who also died in the ambush. The burial will be on Friday, January 25.

DtB: What are you still hearing about the violence in Kenya from other athletes you manage?

Makke: You hear different news from different towns. I think some towns are okay and there is no danger but the whole country is on hold waiting to see what the politicians decide so they can move on with their lives.

DtB: What do you think you'll remember most about Wesly?

Makke: Wesly was a true Africano. I will always remember his character. He was passionate about everything he said or did. He was very generous and was full of hope.

Photo by Jeff Frey & Associates, courtesy of Grandma's Marathon.

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