Dubai: Henry Wanyoike, a record-holding blind runner, said it is the fast-paced growth of Dubai that connects him to the city.
The visually impaired Kenyan athlete who has a world record in the 5,000 and 10,000 metres run in the Paralympics, drew a parallel between his fast running to the fast growth of Dubai as one of the richest cities of the world.
Noting the changes Dubai has experienced since his first visit, Wanyoike said: "It inspires me as I aspire to become the fastest man."
He will run in the 10km Dubai Marathon tomorrow, with his hands tethered to the wrist of his long-time running partner Joseph Kibunja. Wanyoike is completely dependent on his running partner to identify and avoid obstacles along the route.
If won, the duo who are also the goodwill ambassadors for ‘Seeing is Believing' — the Standard Chartered Bank's global community programme, will donate the $1 million (Dh3.67 million) prize money to help 20 million blind people in 20 global cities to undergo cataract surgery. An additional $1 million comes as a bonus if the win is marked by a new world record.
Addressing a cheering crowd of students at the Jumeirah College in Al Safa, which has contributed more than Dh70,000 to the charity, Wanyoike said, "One person goes blind every five seconds across the world. These people can be given eyesight with a very small operation that costs only $40. It is the biggest motivation that I am part and parcel of that effort to make a difference for them, and that the more I run, more people are given a chance to regain their sight."
Sharing his awe-inspiring story of how he fought his blindness at the age of 19 to become a world-renowned athlete, Wanyoike urged the young students to believe in themselves and follow their dreams with confidence, discipline and focus.
"You may not achieve your target easily. But there is no excuse to give up. You can also become champions in your own way if you face the challenges, remain focused and go that extra mile," he said.
Wanyoike won the gold medal in the 5,000 metres for the visually impaired at the Sydney Paralympics in 2000, making history as the first African to win a Paralympics gold medal in that category.
With the help of his friend Joseph Kibunja, who Wanyoike fondly refers to as his eyes, he went on to win the 5,000 metre and 10,000 metre events in the Athens Paralympics in 2004.
When asked how it feels to run beside Wanyoike, Kibunja said he was trained as an athlete in order to fulfil his friend's dreams and also keep up with his pace while running with him.