For the third time, Moninda Marube crossed the finish line a winner in the Select Staffing Santa Barbara Veterans Day Marathon & Half Marathon. The native of Kenya, who won the full marathon in 2010 and again in 2011 (setting a record of 2 hours, 22 minutes, and 28 seconds), dominated the half-marathon last Saturday, finishing the 13.1-mile race more than two minutes ahead of the second-place runner. The gap would have been wider if Marube hadn’t missed a turn and run, by his estimation, almost an extra mile.
“I would have run 1:07 today,” said Marube, whose official time was 1:13:31. “But everything is good. I did not come to set a record.”
He came to muster support for the biggest run of his life — some 3,700 miles across the United States. He intends to start next spring on the coast of Maine and finish at Leadbetter Beach on November 7, 2015, at the end of another Santa Barbara Marathon. Along the way, Marube wants to call attention to two maladies: human trafficking and child obesity.
It is a grandiose quest, to be sure, fraught with uncertainty. But Marube is fearlessly forging ahead. He has a community of support in his adopted hometown of Auburn, Maine; a videographer has volunteered to document his journey; and he has set up a nonprofit foundation, Escape from Freedom, with a website (escapefromfreedom.org).
“It’s a paradox,” said Dan Campbell, a cross-country coach in Auburn who has taken Marube into his home. “He came here to be free, and he fell into oppression.”
Marube contends that after he embarked on a professional running career in America, his livelihood was stolen by an unscrupulous agent who confiscated a chunk of his earnings and consigned him and other vulnerable immigrant athletes to deplorable living conditions in Minnesota.
“Moninda is the first person to speak out about this kind of human trafficking,” said Campbell, who lent a sympathetic ear to Marube’s story after the Santa Barbara Marathon in 2011. (Campbell was a coach and mentor of Rusty Snow, the founder and director of the area running event, and he has helped stage the races here since its inception in 2009.)
Impressed by Marube’s sincerity, Campbell brought him to Maine early in 2012. He introduced the runner to an immigration lawyer and the Auburn chief of police. They took Marube’s allegations seriously against his former manager, whom he did not name publicly because of concerns of retaliation.
“I felt secure for the first time,” Marube said. “I poured out everything to the chief of police.” According to a story in the Portland Press Herald, it was determined there was not enough evidence to warrant a federal prosecution, but Marube’s cooperation may earn him a permanent visa.
Meanwhile, the 35-year-old Kenyan has become a valued resident of Auburn. He ministers an after-school fitness program for children through the Police Activities League. He brought attention to his crusade by running and winning the Maine Marathon in Portland last month. He opted for the half-marathon in Santa Barbara because he was not fully recovered, and he spent nine hours on his feet during the Marathon Expo at the Earl Warren Showgrounds the day before the race, informing passersby about Escape from Freedom. “What is human trafficking?” he was asked. “It’s people taking advantage of you,” he said.
Sammy Cheruiyot Mutai, 36, emerged as the winner of Saturday’s marathon in trying 80-degree weather. His time was 2:31:40. Mutai also hails from Kenya. When Kenyans show up at distance races, from the big ones in Boston and New York to the many small-town races like Santa Barbara’s, they are in it to win it.
“Nobody is born a runner,” Marube maintained. “Everybody is capable of becoming a runner. The secret is training hard and being inspired.”
Kenyans are trained naturally by the daily exertions of being self-propelled in a mountainous country. As for inspiration, it seems that they have an advantage that grows out of being disadvantaged. “We run from corrupt police officers. We run from poverty. We run from illiteracy,” Marube said. “That inspires us. Physical training is 25 percent; 75 percent is up here,” he said, pointing to his head.
Several Santa Barbara runners distinguished themselves among the 3,142 who completed the two races. UCSB grad student Damon Valenzona, 28, was second in the marathon (2:34:30). Rita Beynon, 35, a mother of three, was the first woman in the half-marathon (1:27:29). Deanna Odell, 48, was the top master’s woman and third overall in the marathon (won by Paige Burgin of Los Alamitos in 3:06:39). The master’s winners in the half-marathon were Todd Booth, 45, and Desa Mandarino, 43.
A number of visiting runners posted complaints on social media. They were upset that the finishers’ medals were not on hand (reportedly because of labor issues at the docks; they will be mailed when they arrive). Some experienced difficulty following the course from Goleta to the shore. Some expected to collect more swag at the expo. Snow and company have some things to work on.
But many other runners took pride in their accomplishment, enjoyed the scenery, saluted the military veterans, and were happy to contribute to such causes as the Community Environmental Council, Sansum Diabetes Research Institute, the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation, and area school athletic programs.
Moninda Marube expressed the meaning of their actions on his website: “Let’s all aspire to live in a healthy society that is ruled by love and charity.”
POSTSEASON KICKS: Westmont College hosts Vanguard University in the Golden State Athletic Conference women’s soccer championship match Friday, November 14, at 1 p.m. Then the Warriors will aim for a national title in the NAIA tournament. They made it to the finals last year. … UCSB could be hosting the Big West men’s soccer championship on Saturday night, depending on the outcome of the semifinals. The Gauchos’ postseason hopes looked dim a few weeks ago before they found a deadly striker in 6’4” sophomore Nick DePuy.