Kenyan who won L.A. marathon tells kids here he wants Chicago title

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Chicago marathoner and Kenyan runner, Wesley Korir puts on a Pershing West Middle School hat before talking to students about dedication and the future, Wednesday, October 5, 2011. | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

Two-time Los Angeles marathon winner Wesley Korir desperately wants to add the Chicago Marathon title to his resume this Sunday.

But if he’s going to be beat, the Kenyan hopes his American buddy Ryan Hall is the man to do it.

That’s because the U.S.’s top-rated marathoner has pledged to donate any winnings to a cause close to Korir’s heart – building a hospital in Korir’s poverty-stricken home village.

Korir, who Wednesday shared his inspiring story with Pershing Middle School students, saw his brother Nicholas, 10, die of a snake bite because he couldn’t get to a hospital in time.

“It was a black mamba,” he said, “In Kenya there are no ambulances, and my family didn’t have a car, so my mother had to wait with him for a bus. I don’t want any other mothers to go through what I saw her go through.”

Korir, 28, set up a foundation to support children, farmers and healthcare near his village of Kitale. Hall is helping out through his Steps Foundation.

They’ve raised $13,000 towards the $30,000 they need to complete the hospital.

Korir, who grew up in a one-room hut he shared with his entire family, said he ran five miles to school every day barefoot as a boy.

He told students his parents sometimes didn’t have the money for him to attend class, adding, “You are lucky here – school is free.”

Girls in an eighth grade class sighed in disappointment when he told them he was married.

Korir studied at the University of Louisville on a scholarship, placing third in the 5,000 metres at the 2007 NCAA championships.

But he burst onto the marathon scene in Chicago in 2008 as a virtual unknown.

Starting five minutes behind the elite runners in the open field, he caught them and finished fourth overall, going on to win the Los Angeles marathon a year later.

Korir described Hall as “like a brother,” but said he won’t give an inch if they’re in a race to the line.

Still, Korir said, “If he wins, I win.”

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