Oxford Children Inspired by Ethiopia’s ‘Town of Runners’

June 20, 2013 Updated: June 21, 2013

OXFORD, England—The children of St Barnabas, scores of whom took part in ‘Run Jericho’ on June 16, the school’s annual fund raising one-mile run through the streets and fields of Oxford, have drawn great inspiration from the Ethiopian town of Bekoji.

Situated in the highlands of the Arsi region and known locally as the ‘town of runners,’ Bekoji has an astounding record of producing world-class long distance runners. They include Kenenisa Bekele, the men’s world and Olympic record-holder for the 5,000 and 10,000 meters; women’s Olympic 10,000m champion Tirunesh Dibaba; and Derartu Tulu, who became the first black African woman to win an Olympic gold medal when she triumphed in the 10,000m at the 1992 Barcelona Games.

Long-distance running is a way of life in Bekoji, whose people are no strangers to poverty, famine and war. Running is seen as a way to escape hardship, and producing champions is a great source of pride. At the Beijing Olympics in 2006, runners from Bekoji won all four gold medals in the long-distance track events–an amazing achievement for a town of 17,000 inhabitants.

St Barnabas’ relationship with Bekoji began following a visit to the school last year by film director Jerry Rothwell, who was making a documentary called ‘Town of Runners’ about two girls from Bekoji whose dream it was too perform at the Olympics, and Bekoji runner Edao Weily.

The compelling and deeply moving film (now completed and available to view online), struck a chord with many of the St Barnabas kids, resulting in a surge of interest in the school’s running club. The 200 places for ‘Run Jericho’ were snapped up in record time.

Some of the funds raised from last year’s ‘Run Jericho’ helped to build a library in Bekoji, and St Barnabas now hopes that proceeds from sponsorships at this year’s event will help to pay for a full-time librarian.

Rothwell believes running can have a galvanizing effect on people from all backgrounds.

“Run Jericho has been a fantastic advocate of ‘Town of Runners’ projects,” he said. “With the help of Oxford’s runners, Bekoji redeveloped its library with an internet connection for the town. It’s a great example of how running transcends cultures and unifies people.”

Run Jericho organizer, Alexandra Bailey, stressed that St Barnabas’ running club welcomes children of all abilities.

“We get particularly excited when someone who never ran before, or who is a lapsed runner, turns up at one of our running clubs,” she said. One of the school running club coaches Peter Molduano also pointed out “We also coach para-athletes.”

The 11 year old Theo Cooke, also broke the one-mile Run Jericho course record with an impressive 5 minutes 17 seconds, without taking off his warm-up suit. That means he can challenge any kid from the Town of Runners. “He will fly once he strips down to his racing kit!” concluded Molduano.