Saturday Magazine
Saturday, June 3, 2000

The champion is still alive and active

Cover of Saturday Magazine

Unlike many Kenyan former track stars, Paul Ereng, 32, is still as active in athletics activities as well as running his personal business at his base in Eldoret. Having been born and brought up in Cherangani, Ereng still loves rural life although his first 30 years were divided between Cherangani, Nairobi, the United States and Europe.

"I am enjoying quiet retirement from the track but am extremely busy farming trying to secure a future for my family," says Ereng in his fluent, unaccented English. "I am actually busier than when I was running because I happen to be my own boss."

Ereng is no stereotype farmer. His taste for sharp attire is as fresh as it was 11 years ago when he arrived in the centre stage from West Virginia.

He grows seed maize on his 50-acre farm in Kitale, which he bought from his track earnings. He also leases another 150 acres from other farmers. He sells his produce to the Kenya Seed Company in Kitale. But he reckons he is just 'small fry' compared to other people who farm more than 1,000 acres.

His wife Fatima, a former sales executive with the Nation Media Group, quit and relocated to Eldoret a few years ago to be near Paul. She runs a salon in Eldoret town as well as bringing up their two children - Jasmine, 2, and Vicky, 1.

Ereng feels he is doing the right thing; forces of nature dictate farming, like they do in athletics. However, in athletics, fortunes rely too heavily on the body, which failed him in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. A graduate of sociology and religion at University of West Virginia, Ereng recalls that he had to find a balance between sports and education and towards the end paid more attention to his studies at the expense of athletics. He is looking forward to returning to college either in Kenya or abroad to pursue a law degree.

He remains vocal and offers voice of reason when need be like during a symposium organised by the sport governing body, the Kenya Amateur Athletic Association last year when he criticised and offered solutions.

Ereng spoke of sexual harassment of young girls by fellow athletes and officials, a subject few people dared broach. Recently, he joined some retired athletes to call for changes in KAAA management but when some within his ranks called for an Olympic boycott and others looked for political support, he tactfully withdrew. "A purely sporting dispute should not be politicised nor A my for an Olympic boycott,' said Ereng who instead stood for elections in Trans Nzoia to try and bring athletics development in this area he believes has the potential of having world beaters in short events.

Ereng who was born in Cherangani, moved to Nairobi after completing his primary education at Sitamani Primary. He joined Starehe Boys Centre in 1982 and left in 1985. One year later, while working for the Kenya Posts and Telecommunications Corporation in Nakuru, he met with Kenyan athlete Micah Boinett who introduced him to American coach Fred Hardy. Hardy was in Kenya to recruit young athletes to join American universities. Guided by the three tiers of life taught at Starehe - physical capability, mental and moral uprightness - Ereng fitted in the American system easily.

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