Tegla Loroupe grew up in a small Kenyan village roughly ten miles from her school. There was no school bus, and her family had no mode of transportation. So beginning at age seven, she would run there and back, without shoes. And in the process she figured out she was pretty good at distance running.
Because of her size (fully grown, now, she stands five feet and weighs 86 pounds), the Athletics Kenya (the Kenyan governing body for track and field) did not take her seriously until she won a national cross country event in 1988 at the age of 15. The next year she received her first pair of running shoes and began competing in international competitions.
Her father, who had four wives and 24 children, did not believe running was an appropriate pursuit for women, and wanted Tegla to be more domestic. But Tegla persevered.
In 1994 and 1998 she won the gold medal at the Goodwill Games in the 10,000 meters, and a bronze medal at the IAAF World Championships in 1995 and 1999 at the same distance.
The United States met her up close when she won the New York City marathon in 1994 and 1995. In all, Loroupe has won 8 marathons around the world, and three world half-marathons. She has also held the world record for the women’s marathon, the world record for one hour running (where she covered 18, 340 meters), and at distances of 20, 25, and 30 kilometers.
But as passionate as she is about professional distance running, Loroupe has always been about more than just personal fame and money.
In 2003 she started the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation, with the motto “peace through sports.” Her foundation works to promote peace and economic development between under-served individuals and communities in Northern Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Yemen, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Sudan. Through her reputation and leadership skills, Tegla’s foundation has built an orphanage in Kenya, and also established a series of “peace races.”
These 10K events, which started in 2006, have high ranking government officials running alongside thousands of warriors from rival tribes—and bonding through the experience.
In 2006, Secretary General Kofi Annan of the United Nations named Tegla a United Nations Ambassador of Sport, and in 2008 Oxfam named her Ambassador of Sport and Peace to Darfur.
Today, this world-class athlete and world-class human lives in Germany and Kenya, while continuing her humanitarian efforts around the world.
Tegla Loroupe is a hero you should know. And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.