David Kimani was an extraordinary athlete and person. I only spent one full day with him, but the day provided special moments in my life.
In the fall of 1999 David arrived on the campus of the University of South Alabama from the slums of Nairobi, Kenya. He arrived after classes started. The airlines misplaced his small satchel of clothes. His only possessions were the clothes on his back and his dopp kit.
Education was important to David. He worked hard to overcome his late start and did well in his classes. He never complained about the airline delay.
Often on my way to my office on campus I would see a tall, smiling, Black runner crossing campus on his way to the nearby city park. Later I would learn that runner was David covering his eight miles every morning on his own. In the afternoon he would follow the coaches’ requirements for the members of the track and cross-country team. Often that meant another eight miles.
On November 22, 1999, David won the NCAA Division 1 Cross-country Championship in Bloomington Indiana. The accomplishment was a major feat in many ways. Not only did he win, David was the first athlete from South Alabama to win a national championship event.
Another member of the track team was Stu Muirhead, a white South African runner. Stu came to South Alabama on a soccer scholarship. The university wanted to start a football program. In order to meet the requirements for Title 9, the men’s soccer program was discontinued and women’s softball took its place. Stu was given a track scholarship and ran the 800 meters.
Stu was one of my favorite students. He took 5 classes from me. I knew he would not be going home during the Thanksgiving break so I invited him to our home for Thanksgiving. He asked if it would be okay to bring two other international members of the track team. I agreed. When they arrived, the white South African, raised under apartheid was accompanied by two Kenyans, one of whom was David Kamani.
After we ate, I learned David had never driven a car. Since we lived in the country on an isolated road, I asked him if he would like to drive my car. He eagerly replied yes. He drove one half mile to an intersection, turned around and returned to our home.
I like to learn from people in other countries. I often asked my international students, “what has been your best experience and your worst experience during your time in America?”
When I asked David what had been his best experience thus far in America, he quickly broke into a broad grin and replied, “getting to drive a car.” This young man, who a few days earlier won the NCAA Division 1 Cross-country Championship, felt driving a car for the first time was his best experience in America. As has often been the case with my travels and experiences with other cultures, I learned the extent of my privileged life. I started driving when I was 13. Owned my own car when I was 14. I was humbled by David to think how blessed my life has been.
At the start of our new year, I hope you join me in being aware of our many privileges and are as humbled and thankful as I am. Happy New Year.