5k race/walk to raise awareness

Obed Ombongi knows he can’t eradicate AIDS with one race.

But the president of the BGSU-Kenya 5k Benefit Run also knows his student organization can make a difference in raising awareness of a virus that infects over 2 million people in his home country of Kenya.

“Back home there is poverty in our countries and one of the main factors this is constituted to poverty is HIV/AIDS,” Ombongi, a junior Medical Technology major said. “Those one, two, three people who may hear our information about HIV/AIDS, through that we know that we’ve made a small difference. People will get aware of what’s going on.”

BGSU/Kenya’s fourth annual Race/Walk Against AIDS will be held tomorrow at 10 a.m. The 3.1 mile course loops around the campus and begins and ends at the BGSU ice arena.

After a modest beginning in 2003 with 40 participants, the race grew to over 200 runners the next year. Last year attendance dropped slightly due to a virtual blizzard the morning of the race, but with sunny forecasts this year, Ombongi expects over 500 participants, as over 400 are already registered.

This year’s special guest, former Olympian and Kenya native Mike Boit, will be in attendance at the race and will also be giving a presentation on AIDS awareness at 5:30 tonight in room 315 of the Bowen-Thompson Student Union. Along with being a decorated runner in the 1970s and 80s, Boit holds a doctor of education degree from the University of Oregon and is currently a professor at Kenyatta University in the Department of Exercise and Sports Science.

“At one time he was a commissioner of athletics in the country [Kenya],” Ombongi said. “So we decided he was the best person to come here. Through him we will get connected to back home.”

Boit’s main claim to fame is earning a bronze medal in the 800 meter run at the 1972 Munich Olympics and placing fourth in the 1500 meter run. Boit also has an interesting connection to BGSU, as the very race he earned a bronze medal in, the 800 meter in Munich, is the race that the Falcons’ own Dave Wottle earned the only track and field Olympic gold medal in BGSU history.

While Ombongi won’t be giving out gold medals at tomorrow’s race, the winners will receive Kenyan wood carvings, medallions and T-shirts with the Kenyan flower on them to represent the Kenyan culture. One of the visions of the race is to “promote athletics as a means of linking Kenya and the BG community.”

Another goal of the group is to raise money through the race and by selling the race T-shirts. The money raised is given to the Youth Vision International, a non-profit organization that uses a collaborative strategy between youth in the USA and Kenya to fight AIDS. Last year the BGSU/Kenya 5K Benefit Run earned about $3,000.

While junior Vish Sakthivel said she won’t be running on Saturday, she did buy a T-shirt at the union, where the group has put in many hours selling shirts and promoting their race.

“I just wanted to give to the cause,” Sakthivel said.

Runners who still wish to race can register tomorrow morning before the run. Ombongi said he hopes the race will continue to grow exponentially and he has almost completed the BGSU/Kenya 5K Benefit Run Web site.

“I’m very happy because it’s the fastest growing organization on campus,” Ombongi said. “Because when we compare then [2003] and now, everyone knows about BGSU/Kenya 5K Run.”