There’s a Swahili Word For It…
Jambo, Sneaker Factorians! Have you been looking to elevate your performance, or perhaps just trying to get your motivation up? How about looking inside yourself and finding your own personal mantra. Mantra? Dr. Love, ain’t that some sort of Eastern world, breathing mind-body stuff?
YOU KNOW IT! Definitely is. When I saw a wee lad at Monmouth University doing everything to make the team I used to remind myself DAILY that if I wanted to be on the team I, I HAD to get everything out of every run, mile, and stride that I possibly could in order to be good enough to make that squad. And ya know what, thanks be to God I managed to make that team my sophomore year. Then that entire year I told myself I needed to keep getting better if I wanted to get to the conference championship meet, which I eventually did (only to have a terrible race which would become my next summer mantra!).
Fast forward to the next pre-season and I was excited, but I didn’t really have an idea of something to motivate me to a higher level- I was where the coaching staff thought I should be, but I wanted to be better. As it so happens, my then assistant coach, Rich, nabbed a great article from another coach he knew about Kip Keino and the Mexico City Olympics. Truth be told, I never knew the first thing about Keino at the time other than his name, but author John Manners article entitled “Let Me Die Here” wrote something so powerful it would be words that would change my entire perspective on racing, and a little bit about life too. Kip Keino was quoted as saying “If I am to die, let me die here…” (that may or may not be paraphrased by a word or two…) at the Olympics. Keino believed so strongly in his ability to overcome adversity that he said he would drive his body over the edge to the brink of death if it meant winning the Gold for himself and his native land. It was no easy task, of course, because he was going after the fiercest kick in the world at the time, in the American Jim Ryun.
I should also mention that Keino was fresh off having one of his organs taken out (something not so important like a gall bladder or spleen), and was sick as a dog going into the finals, his sixth race of the Games. Keino was an underdog, to say the very least. Pundits, track know-it-alls, and Padraig Jacobs alike believed that Keino was pretty much out of contention. But uh-uh, down but not out my friends! Keino wanted to win at all costs, even if it meant an early demise. But he had something not even the Wunderkind that was Jim Ryun could compete with- drive. A drive so unbelievable that nothing would hold him down.
When asked later, Keino referred to the words which would launch my mental status for years to come. “What was it Kippy?” “Roho,” he replied. Roho is the Swahili word for courage, but not just any courage. A courage that comes from a deep place within you that can’t just be turned on and off whenever you feel like it. It’s the absolute NEED, not want, but pure and true NEED to meet your goal and overcome whatever stands in your way. For Kippy, it was everything- the overwhelming heat (despite being from Kenya, he was from the Valley and was not used to oppressing Mexican heat), the surgery, the extra races (5k, and 10k’s which did not end well for him), and being sick after the surgery. But Keino summoned strength from somewhere deep inside of him that no man, woman or child could have ever stopped- the type of strength a mother finds when her child is stuck and hears him/her cry mommy and she lifts the 2 ton car. Roho baby, roho.
So you have your mantra, roho, strong, fast, run tall, run, be awesome (whatever words makes you want to run great!), what do you do. You live them! For me, I literally wore my mantra on me using a sharpie marker. In my race bag next to my spikes was my chisel tip marker to write “ROHO” on my left wrist. Every time I felt myself struggling, I looked down at my arm and remembered that strength that Kippy found and remembered his words and inspiration. If he could survive after his rough go at it, I could make each and every race my best, and you can too!
Roho baby, ROHO!