Simon Cheprot went to Nigeria to take part in the IAAF Okpekpe International 10-kilometre road race that took place on Sunday.
His aim was to win the race for the second time, having accomplished a similar feat in 2016.
But it was not to be, as he got involved in an act towards the end of the race that has won him praise — and Sh1 million to boot.
Cheprot had his eyes on the finish line after a difficult race, but as he stretched his legs in seventh position, he noticed that his friend Kenneth Kipkemoi was about to collapse.
Casting glory aside, he pulled his friend along and helped him stagger past the finish line.
As they both walked towards the line, seven other athletes zoomed past them. They trudged past the line and embraced.
The the selfless act shocked the organisers and spectators — and loosened the purse strings, making Cheprot $10,000 (Sh1 million) richer.
Edo state Deputy Governor Philip Shaibu gave $3,000, former Governor Adams Oshiomole, $5,000 and a hotelier handed him $2,000.
The two athletes flew back to Kenya on Tuesday.
It was not until Tuesday morning that Cheprot’s heroic act went viral, with many Kenyans praising him.
The Iten-based athlete told the Nation that he went to west Africa with one mission: winning the race after good preparations in Kapcherop, Elgeyo-Marakwet County.
“My preparation for the race was great and I knew I was going to win. After four kilometres, I was dropped by the leading pack when I developed complications in my stomach. That is how I found myself in a position to rescue my compatriot who was ahead of me,” Cheprot said.
Cheprot said he saw Kipkemoi staggering and slowed down to help him cross the finish line.
“I was touched to see him stagger as he gazed at the line. I did not think twice. I rushed to his side and lifted him. I could not run past a friend who was obviously in trouble,” the father of two added.
Kipkemoi was much ahead of him and could have finished in fourth position had his body not failed him, just about 15 metres from the finish line.
They both trudged to the line where, in another sign of selflessness, he let Kipkemoi cross ahead of him at position 12 with a time of 31:05. Cheprot was position 15, clocking 31.10.
When the Nation visited Cheprot at his Iten home, he was surprised that his actions had made him famous. He had not been online since he left Nigeria.
Visitors were already streaming to his home to congratulate him for the heroic act. Cheprot’s pastor, Elias Kimutai, was one of the many visitors.
“I was surprised that Cheprot forgot what took him there in order to help a fellow athlete. It shows how human he is and we’re very proud of him. You never know what might have happened to Kipkemoi,” the pastor told the Nation.
Cheprot’s wife, Ms Linet Chebet, said she was watching the race and that she was also touched by his action.
“It touched me to see the athlete struggling to finish the race, but I was very happy when I saw my husband helping him cross the line,” Chebet said.
Kipkemoi could not be reached for comment on Tuesday, but Cheprot confirmed that they travelled to Kenya together.
Cheprot is a member of Jesus Voice of Trumpet International Ministries, Iten.
He told the Nation that his faith in God made him drop his ambition to help a fellow athlete. “Many people would wish to reward me for what happened. But I would request them to help me build a church in this area. We’ve been renting space for our services every Sunday,” he said.
His asked Deputy President William Ruto and other well-wishers to help him realise his dream.
Cheprot represented Kenya at the 2014 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Copenhagen, Denmark, where he was position 22.
In 2016, he was also selected for the same event, which took place in Cardiff, the United Kingdom, where he took the sixth position.
Born in Kapoiywo, Mt Elgon Sub-County in Bungoma, Cheprot developed interest in athletics when he was at school.
He took the decision to fully focus on the spot after dropping out of school in Form Three due to lack of fees.
“I was introduced to athletics by my cousin James Kwalia who used to represent Qatar. I was a student of St John Skinwa Secondary School,” the athlete said.
The IAAF silver label Okpekpe International 10 kilometre road race is organised by Pamodzi Sports Marketing Ltd in conjunction with the Edo State Athletics Association and the Athletics Federation of Nigeria.
Ethiopian Fikadu Admasu Dawit won the race, clocking 29 minutes, followed by compatriot Berehanu Tsegu (29.02). Kenyan John Kipsang was third at 29.17.
In the women’s category, Kenyan Sheila Chelangat won after clocking 32:59, followed by Dorcas Jepchirchir (33:03) and Ethiopian Kasegen Asefa (33:17).