Saturday, March 24, 2007

If Friday doesn't humble you, nothing will...

Friday here in Mombasa began after breakfast with a trip to St. Peter’s the Rock Junior School in Mombasa, where we toured the school and interacted with the students, who are in the first through third grades. What makes St. Peter’s a challenge for the staff is the fact that both normal and mentally challenged students are among the students attending this school.

Our senior women’s captain Renee Metivier Baillie of Boulder, Colorado, and Cack Ferrell of Eugene, Oregon were the ones who got this trip organized along with the USA Track & Field staff and our local liaisons.

Metivier Baillie, through a non-profit organization in Boulder called One World Running, founded by Mike Sandrock who covers the sport extensively for the Boulder Daily Camera, collected shoes from people in the Colorado city to donate to the kids at the school before Team USA’s trip to Kenya to compete in the IAAF World Country Championships.

Farrell, on the other hand, also collected shoes from teammates and friends from the Oregon Track Club in Eugene to give away to the school before the trip to Mombasa.

Upon arriving in Mombasa, the two asked members of Team USA to donate whatever unneeded shoes to the school; all told, they came up with more than several dozen pairs to give away.

The students at St. Peter’s sang to the team, and also helped give the athletes and staff some lessons in Swahili. The athletes and staff talked individually to the students, and made new friends with their gifts and words of encouragement.

The majority of Team USA was moved by their visit to the school and many described the visit as “eye opening”.

Metivier Baillie described Friday’s school visit as “one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.”

The University of Colorado graduate felt that it made a lasting impression on the entire team, from the junior men all the way up to the team staff. “This is my third trip on a world cross country championship team, and by far this is the most inspirational one, even before Saturday’s race. This really makes the trip worthwhile.”

“It’s an honor to be a part of a US world championships team; but to take this trip and be able to do something positive besides running is truly an amazing feeling. This really puts things in perspective, and makes you thankful for what you have.”

Ferrell, a former All-American from Princeton University, who has traveled extensively through Southeast Asia, Central and South America, said that she and her family have always made it a point in their travels to visit schools and donate needed items; in fact, after the World Championships, Ferrell and her parents will continue touring through Kenya.

When we toured the school, we saw two of the dorm rooms. There were five bunk beds in a space roughly 20 x 30 feet. We were told that 15-17 kids sleep in each room; some of the mattresses are stacked on top of each other during the day, and the kids that don’t have a bed sleep on the floor on the mattresses.

This visit to the school really put things in perspective, particularly since I’m in the retail athletic footwear industry. People, especially customers, bitch and moan about the fact that they missed out on getting a pair of the retro Air Jordans; hell, the people I saw Friday were grateful to get a pair of shoes from the national team.

The only regret that I had was that I wished I had been able to gather up some used shoes to donate myself, along with some notebooks, pencils, pens, and other school supplies. Things that we in the United States take for granted are not readily available in many third world countries. I believe that the stat I read was that the average yearly income in Kenya was under $1000.

On the way to and from our beachside waterfront hotel here in Mombasa, we saw some of the poorest sections of the city. It was sad to see what we saw, needless to say. You can watch all the commercials on late night television saying that one dollar a day can help feed a child, but until you see it yourself, you really don’t know what poverty is.

We checked out the course for Saturday’s World Cross Country Championships at the Mombasa Golf Course. It’s a really beautiful course, set near the Indian Ocean. The course is a lot harder than it looks, as the runners will have to run THROUGH some sand traps.

I did have one humorous thing happen to me Friday when I entered my room…I got a phone call asking if I was an athlete and if so, had I been drug tested…oh, well!

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