“Running saved me”: The path taken by long-distance runner Paul Chelimo from Kenya via the US Army to the Olympic podium
Long-distance runner Paul Chelimo became Team USA’s first two-time Olympic medalist in the 5,000-meter run in Tokyo last month. But while Chelimo calls it an “honor” to win the medal, the 30-year-old admits that the games were “very intense” and “took a lot away from him”. Chelimo’s exhaustion was evident as he broke the finish line and finished just a split second ahead of Kenyan Nicholas Kipkorir Kimeli.
The 40th annual New Balance Fifth Avenue Mile will be Chelimo’s biggest step towards getting back in shape while maintaining his body. Chelimo will compete against 13 Olympic athletes from Tokyo, two Olympic medalists and two former tournament winners in the race scheduled for September 12 in New York.
“I can’t think of a road race in the world bigger than Fifth Avenue Mile,” said Chelimo, who will compete in the first one-mile race since 2018. “It’s going to be on the weekend, it’s always live on TV, it’s always in New York City – and I know a lot of people in New York love to run. So, that’s where I want to be at that time. It should be fun, one To be part of it, and hopefully it won’t be the last.
“The goal is that I hope I come back with a win.”
Chelimo has two motivating factors for the race. The first one, which meets the ever higher expectations of its fans and sponsors, has been around since it was running professionally. The second, on the other hand, is two years old and has given him “another drive”.
This second motivational factor is Arianna Chebet Chelimo, Chelimo’s first child.
“If I go out there I’ll grind because she needs to have a better life,” said Chelimo. “She must have the best of life.”
Chelimo wants his daughter to have the best life, mainly because his own – before moving from Kenya to the US in 2010 to run collegially – was far from it.
In the 11 years since Chelimos traveled nearly 10,000 miles from his hometown of Itan, Kenya, to the United States, Chelimos has adopted the adage “Go hard or suffer the rest of your life”. The words are ubiquitous on Chelimo’s social media. Chelimo’s mother taught him this “tough” way of life as a child, and it helped make him the two-time Olympic champion that the world knows today.
“You always have to work hard for the best things,” said Chelimo. “And when I came to the US it was really life changing, and that’s why I believe in, ‘go hard or suffer the rest of your life.’ The United States is a land of opportunity and this is a place where, if you can works really hard, everything will fit together. ”
“I just have to work hard,” he added. “I’ll go with that. The way I grew up, the only way I could get out of poverty and live a hard life was by running. Running saved me.”
Running in the US may have saved Chelimo, but he paid back the favor to his new country. Chelimo joined the U.S. Army in 2014 and served as a water treatment specialist. For his services, he received US citizenship shortly before the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
The Army – including their Word Class Athlete Program, which trains Olympic hopefuls like Chelimo – gave him a new mentality. A more respectful, humble, resilient and tenacious mentality.
He carries this mentality into every race.
“You have to be resilient, you have to be tough,” said Chelimo. “And they teach you that if you go to war you must be ready to die for your country. This is how I feel when I wear the United States jersey. I feel like I represent the military in a different way along the way. ”
Chelimo’s next big goal requires him to represent Team USA again. He hopes to win gold at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics at the age of 38. Faith, says Chelimo, is what he relies on to achieve this goal.
Faith also made Chelimo thrive after moving across the ocean, serving his country, succeeding at the Olympic level, and caring for his daughter. As long as Chelimo is working hard he is confident that the trend will continue.
“If I win gold in the US, in LA, it is really, really [bigger] than winning gold at any other type of Olympic Games, “said Chelimo.” … That would be a dream come true. “