Sitting in a small-town park on a North Carolina spring day, to some is just another Saturday, but to Elly Rono it’s a precious dream.
Born in Kenya, Rono saw little promise for his future. “Life is not easy, it is really hard. There are parts of the world where you don’t see a future, all that you see is darkness. You don’t see any hope,” said Rono. “For most people, life is very hard in Kenya. You graduate from school and it is hard to find a job. When you do it’s low paying. It’s not getting you anywhere. You would be saving for 15-20 years to save for a car or a house.” Rono is not exaggerating, 50 percent of the population in Kenya lives below the poverty rate, and 40 percent are unemployed. The average life expectancy is only 47 years as compared to 77 years in the USA. Kenya is the seventeenth poorest country in the world.
A little parched from his daily run, he takes a drink from his bottle of water. He has been clocking just under the Olympic qualifying time for the long distance run, remaining focused on the day he can run for America.
A young family walks by our picnic table – boys and their father.
Yet, this dream has not been without sacrifice. He left his family behind in hopes that they could eventually join him and that his struggle would make life better for all of them. “Some people are like ‘how are you doing that?’ ‘How are you going months and months without seeing your boys – it’s not right.’ They see that it is a weird way. It is unusual. But for a change to happen, someone must be willing to sacrifice and if I don’t make that sacrifice, no one else will make it for me. Someone has to change something. I want people in future generations to live a better life. That’s what I want.”
He began running years ago when some friends asked him to join them in their daily run. He didn’t think he would be good at it, but asked them to wait for him. He had to run home and get his shoes.
He looks around the park, watching joggers wearing baseball caps sporting US team logos run alongside romping family dogs. “This country is almost the only country in the world that can fulfill any dream that you can think of and I know if I did not come to this country, I would not be a runner now, “ says Rono.
But the trail to becoming an American Olympic hopeful was not an easy one for a man from Kenya. “I was hoping to run in the last Olympics that were in Athens Greece but things with the immigration process were not as fast as I had hoped. It’s not easy.”
He runs 20 miles a day to achieve what he calls ‘the dream’ saying simply that nothing is easy that there are no short cuts. It’s been a long road from Kenya.
“When I started filing for my documentation, I wanted to get a Green Card, I tried several lawyers. They said to me ‘we just can’t take your case. It is too hard. They said my case was not simple. It’s not going to go through’.”
Rono was used to going the distance, he would not give up so easily.
“I took the phone book and kept calling lawyers one by one until I got to Bashyam & Spiro. I think they are the best lawyers I ever worked with. They set up an appointment with me and we met a couple of times. They re-examined my case. On our third meeting they told me you have a shot. It would take some time but it could work. I said, ‘you mean it could potentially work?’ and they said ‘yes, it could work’. All the other lawyers never said anything like that to me. From that first day I just saw things working.”
“To finally find someone who would really help me, I felt something -I was so relieved that the burden on me was being lifted because I knew if this goes through –that’s my future. I saw my future. Right there I knew. I’m glad I came to them.”
He walks us over to the trail he runs everyday, we walk past an old abandoned gravesite, around a bend in the path to a new running trail. It seems new and full of promise as it winds through the forest.
“It is a huge privilege being in this country. There is almost no other country in the world where you can do what you like and fulfill your dream. You get all kinds of chances here you don’t have in other countries. Other countries could be good, but I tell you, it’s great being here.” Rono smiles as he looks ahead at the path before him.