“I can tell you are very determined,” he said.
“Well yes, I think I am.” (I always love a good ego-boost.)
“When you come back, I’m going to give you something special,” Freddy said, “I’m going to give you a new name – a Kenyan name!”
I couldn’t wait to return home, for many reasons, among which was to get my Kenyan name. After running my first 7 miles, I returned home for my first hydration break. Freddy handed me my water and GU packet.
“Can I have my name now?” I asked.
Freddy laughed furiously, “No, of course not. You’re not done running yet. Tomorrow – I’ll give you your name tomorrow.”
Patience isn’t my virtue. The rest of my run went well, but I was anxious for my new name. The next day, I hobbled downstairs to the front desk – incredibly sore. 18 miles had done some serious damage on my body. Freddy smiled when he saw me. He knew what I’d come for and pulled out a post-it note and wrote down one word – “Wanjiru.” Freddy explained that this name meant that I was a leader. I took the post-it and thanked him.
Since then, every time I walk in or out of the building, Freddy yells out “Wanjiru!” from the front desk. I doubt Freddy knows my real name – our building is huge and there’s no reason for him to know my name. But my real name hardly matters. To Freddy, I’m the Boston Marathon runner named Wanjiru.
I wanted to know more about my name, so went online to learn more. Turns out, Wanjiru is a very traditional name among the Kikuyu people of Kenya. (The Kikuyu people are the largest ethnic group in Kenya, representing 22% of the country’s population.) My name associates me with a clan of people who are known for their leadership skills, but also as strong warriors and medicine men.
Training for the marathon, I feel like a warrior of sorts. Also, I share my name with another Kenyan marathon runner, Samuel Wanjiru – who won the 2008 Olympics marathon, setting an Olympic record time of 2:06:32. In 2009, Samuel won both the London Marathon and Chicago Marathon, running the fastest ever marathons recorded in the United Kingdom and United States, respectively.
So, although I’m sorry to say that the rivalry has dissolved, I think it’s for the best. I’m honored to be connected to the Kenyans – and I’m hoping that my new name, Wanjiru, helps me run as fast as one!