Meet Stephen Kiogora, but please call him “Baba.” It is a term of endearment used by the other KIMbia guys to reflect Baba’s personality – nice, quiet, and considerate. The Swahili word translates to “father,” but in this case the meaning is probably closer to “great guy.” In that regard, the nickname is spot on. Baba is a great guy – always smiling, always friendly, always laughing.
Most of the KIMbia guys you’ve met so far have been from areas not too far from the training camp in Iten, but not so for Baba. He’s from Meru, a busy administrative center in Eastern Kenya on the slopes of Mount Kenya. To get to training camp each season, Baba must ride a matatu (remember those buses that Yuda drove?) for ten hours. The ride from Meru to Iten is arduous, traveling through Embu to Nyeri to Nyahururu to Nakuru to Eldoret and then to Iten. When Baba is late to training camp, which happens quite often, the KIMbia guys point to the summit of Mount Kenya that is visible in the eastern sky and joke that, “Oh, Baba must be lost over there.”
But the long journey is worth it for Baba, whose racing success keeps getting better and better. When he paced Timothy Cherigat at the 2004 Boston Marathon, he decided not to stop and ran to a fourth place finish. Then at the Chicago Marathon he ran for himself and clocked a 2:09, his introduction to the elite level of the international marathon world.
This is an honor even more impressive coming from Meru, Kenya, which has never had an international athlete before Baba. Meru is an important coffee producing area, harvesting two crops a year from the high-altitude volcanic soils of Mt. Kenya and the Nyambenis. And while Baba may be the area’s first international athlete, he still helps support the local coffee cooperatives. When he’s not training to run sub-2:10 marathons, he is a coffee farmer and also a member of the Armed Forces.
But now he is training for a marathon – the ING New York City Marathon – and his days consist of eating, sleeping, and running. He and his training partner, Tom Nyariki, work together each day to complete Dieter’s workout and prepare themselves for breakthrough races in November. Baba has come on strong recently and appears to be rounding in great form. And no matter how grueling the endurance run or how fast the interval work, Baba keeps his trademark smile and is quick with a laugh – an all-around great guy.
View the Chasing Baba photo gallery.