Sandy has always had a passion for running. She has spent the last 10 years turning that passion into action. She has helped hundreds of impoverished Kenyan children survive, run and thrive.
Sandy has ran most of her life. When I met with her recently, she couldn’t remember the exact age she started, but she does remember running in grade school. She has run over 40 marathons, including the Boston Marathon, and countless smaller races. She coached running for over 26 years through the Thunder Bay Metre Eaters run club and with the Fresh Air 10 Mile Training Program. In fact, she developed the 10 mile training program they use today. She was the National Trainer for Canada’s Team Diabetes for 10 years, which is when she traveled the world and ran marathons in Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Hawaii, to name a few.
But Sandy’s favorite and most inspiring race was a little 5 km race in Kakamega, Kenya.
Kakamega is a town in south western Kenya
Kakamega is a town about 30 km north of the Equator in south western Kenya. It has a population of under 65,000 people. Most locals make their living by farming and fishing. Coffee, tea, sugar and sunflower are the main crops grown. With a high annual rainfall, the area hosts the last of the Kenyan tropical rainforest in the Kakamega Forest National Reserve.
However, Kenya reports that over 50% of the population live in impoverished conditions, not able to afford adequate housing, basic food and other life necessities (2005). In Kakamega, the mean annual farm household income ranges from USD$55 to USD$1650 (2013). More than 80% of households in this area have no access to clean water (2007).
Sandy wanted to help
Sandy had always wanted to help in this area of the world. With her 2 daughters, Sarah and Hannah, Sandy volunteered in Tanzania in 2008. This work jump started Sandy’s desire to help out more in Africa.
Sandy had also befriended Gilbert Kiptoo, a world class Kenyan marathon runner, who she met during the Fire Fighter’s Ten Mile Road Race in Thunder Bay, Ontario over a decade ago. She visited Gilbert in Africa and says that, over the years, Gilbert has become like a son to her. Sandy decided to help in Gilbert’s home area.
Gilbert is from a very small town near Kakamega and grew up in these impoverished conditions. These Kenyan children sleep on the floors because they have no bed. They often go hungry because there is no food to eat and no money to buy some. And the children often walk miles to school, often in bare feet, if they are able to even attend school.
It started with an idea at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon
In 2009, Sandy was a part of a team of runners in the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. She had joined 15 other people running for an organization called CES (Community Education Services). They were running to fundraise $25,000 to support Kenyan children orphaned by the HIV / AIDS pandemic. It was at this marathon that Sandy asked the president of CES, Michael Frederiksen, if she could do more to help the Kenyans. And the idea to host a race in Kakamega was born.
A small team went to Kakamega to plan a race
A team of 4 people from Canada went to Kakamega for 6 weeks to put on a 5 kilometer Canada Day Run in Kenya. Their goal was to raise money to send more children to school. It costs $250/year to send one child to school in Kenya. They found race sponsors in New Balance, Fresh Air and the Thunder Bay Metre Eaters.
The 4 race organizers choose a route near the Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (MMUST) and invited 25 schools to send runners. Teachers from each school could pick 2 – 4 students to run.
Sandy didn’t know what to expect on race day
The students were from rural schools and were not accustomed to running. Many of them walked to the race start, but some came by matatus (minibus). They came playing drums. Over 300 students came to that first race. Many came barefoot or in the school issued oxford shoes. Most came in their school uniforms of black trousers and long skirts. The course route was dirt and gravel.
Sandy didn’t know what to expect that first race and she was blown away. These children were coming from far distances, running in bare feet on gravel roads. They were so excited and so grateful to receive bread and bottled water at the end of their run. These items were more prized than the trophies and ribbons they also received.
Sandy made it her mission to supply the children with run gear.
Since the first race, Sandy has made it her mission to find running shoes and running clothing for these wonderful students. She receives donations of gently used running shoes from the running community in Canada. New Balance has donated about 50 – 60 pairs of new shoes per year. Together, with people from Fresh Air and through the collection of shoes by CES at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, over 3000 pairs of donated running shoes have been sent to the students in Kakamega.
Sandy has helped raise money to build the Musaga Secondary School complete with a kitchen in Kakamega. Sandy has also helped facilitate sponsorship for 7 children annually through fundraising efforts locally with the Fresh Air 10 Mile Road Race Training Group. Gilbert has taken these orphaned children under his wing and into his home to offer them a better life.
I never thought, in my wildest dreams, that I would be able to help and go this far, across to Kenya.Sandra Guthrie, 2019
The race’s legacy will live on for years to come
This year, July 1, 2019, will be the 9th running of the CES Kenya Canada Day Run. Sandy has been able to attend 6 of the races, until failing health has prevented her from returning to Kenya. The race has helped to fund over 350 students to attend school in Kenya. Some of these students are now attending University. One of the boys, under Gilbert Kiptoo’s wing, Shadrack, has secured himself a running scholarship to a University in the USA. Some of the students are now involved in CES and are helping to give back to their community.
Sandy has made a long-lasting difference in the lives of children in Kakamega and for all those that know her. Her passion for running has helped these children survive and thrive. Her passion for running continues to empowered and inspired many people, including me.