What you need to know:
- On Christmas eve last week, Toby Tanser, an athlete, humanitarian and founder of the Shoe4Africa charity, organised a relay race from the Equator to Eldoret with elite and legendary runners to break ground for a new children’s cancer hospital.
- We follow Tanser’s charity through excerpts from his latest book: Running with Destiny – An odyssey of Mistakes, Machetes and Miracles. Today’s excerpts form the final installment:
Driving back, neither Andrew nor I opened our mouths as if we concealed a despicable secret.
Only when we approached the town centre did I speak.
I requested he drop me at the Gran Prix café, as strong coffee, the strongest, might prevent my head from swirling.
Did I want Miriam’s face appearing with charcoal lips and smoke filtering through her eye sockets spinning inside my mind? Of course not.
But how could I forget?
Hopefully, the owner Moses Tanui was around—a man I met during that first run in Kenya 12 years ago.
Ordering a drink, I occupied a garden seat in the shade of an overgrown tree bending like a weeping willow.
Scratching words on a notepad, I composed a poem for Miriam because what else could I do? Perhaps I should invest in a gravestone, but where would I place it?
As the waitress handed me the cup, Pieter Langerhorst and his wife Lornah Kiplagat entered the café.
Lornah stood locked in conversation, but Pieter ambled over in my direction.
When he approached, he tossed a blue laminated folder on the table and asked, “Hey Toby, do you want to do this?”
But it was scarcely a request since before I could respond, he brushed the document aside like dirty crumbs off the tabletop.
He began rambling about the car he had recently purchased.
But the wording on the pamphlet diverted my concentration, “What on earth is that document about?”
Pieter sighed, tossing back his head, “You remember my friend, the doctor? I hinted, hinted only, I might be willing to fund a modest charitable project to the tune of a couple of hundred dollars. Well, that doctor went crazy. Completely crazy.”
The doctor returned with a monster of a pitch, not for 200 dollars, but requesting a multi-million-dollar hospital.
Pieter was likely to chuck the document in the wastepaper bin. Holding the papers, I read the bold typeset words aloud:
Proposal to build East and Central Africa's first public children's hospital
“Wait,” I could not help myself.
“Let me,” my mind flowed faster than any tongue could click with an imagination spinning in cartwheels.
A slideshow of events slammed against a blank screen.
This experiential life, green satchels, and Major Ramachandra’s free spirit. My wonderful treatment at the children’s hospital in England. Starting to run.
Dropping out of school, Amsterdam poverty days, and again starting to run again after recognizing Carl.
The Nike sponsorship race, inferring—like Mr. Matthew indicated—that running could launch exciting adventures.
Bumping into Simon Robert Naali, then Noel directing me to Eldoret. Kibera, the Crocodile Christmas & the Machakos shoe race.
The Swedish woman at the airport, gifting her footwear. Authoring a book about Kenya, and by fluke, having the manuscript published.
That horrendous attack in Zanzibar and witnessing firsthand African healthcare for the locals. The healing of Dr. Mehta, his belief, and his conviction.
An unknown travel agent. London Charing Cross surgeons, saving my life. The NYC Marathon, Karen dying, and the terrorism of 9/11. The forming of an official charity, the clashes, the peace movement, and now Miriam.
Grace lived six miles (9.6 km) away at the IDP camp, and only by chance had she decided this morning to revisit a site of gruesome memories.
All these circumstances spoke like bold statements provoking me to ask, is this proposal scripted for me?
Even bumping into Pieter carrying the file in a random café signified an improbability; this was the first time I had ever seen him walking in Eldoret.
Furthermore, had I swigged the coffee 10 minutes ago, the moment would never have occurred.
A public hospital for children, how perfect, a center to gather regardless of culture, class, sex, or creed.
The forces combined, at least for me, and I knew beyond doubt, this opportunity presented a calling.
But wait, hold up, I had committed to the marathon.
I realized I stood at the most diverse of any crossroads—the weightiest decision of my professional life.
Accepting the hospital scheme remained impossible as an ancillary project to the Manhattan Marathon. Both required a laser focus, an over-the-top full-time commitment.
What a choice, 7,000 miles (11,265 km) apart, two separate continents, and two diverse tasks. Which should I do? Go for a dazzling career job where I named my salary or stick to the unpaid volunteer work?
The running event suggested the logical occupational choice. My life, all my contacts, were immersed in athletics.
I could purchase a car instead of pedaling a bicycle and secure an apartment—my expertise promoted one choice and canceled out the other.
Plus, If I dropped the marathon project, fat chance Shmuel would lounge around waiting. He had already invested considerable capital establishing the company.
I could hear the rasp of any financial advisor, ‘Toby, choose the hospital, and you will be penniless for the rest of your life.’
Yikes, which should I do?
As I juggled the two options, the melodic strains of Dr. Mehta bellowed in my ear.
Without any doubt, eliciting the words of the doctor, this must be the reason why I came to Africa.
Instantly, I decided, “I will build this project.”
And I whispered, for little Miriam. Pieter winced, issuing one of those, ‘Are you crazy?’ frowns.
Only later, in Iten, did I pause, breathe, and think. My qualifications for this gargantuan task were hardly impressive.
I had no training in fundraising or construction. No team of workers or even one staff member waited in the wings to support me.
My medical experience, although considerable, originated from the wrong side of the bed. My finances barely kept me afloat, let alone suggesting that I should embark upon such a project.
Parental aid ended when I left home—no old family money, or indeed new, would cushion this ride.
Since I never graduated, no school alumni would rally at my rear.
I lived in America as an immigrant on a temporary residence permit, residing in an illegal sublet—had I selected the rational choice?
Was it judicious to say no to a billionaire partner? Thumbing through the proposal, I began searching for loopholes.
If any item appeared dubious, I would jump ship and step back to the Manhattan Marathon.
But turning the pages, each line of the preamble coaxed me to understand I had chosen correctly.
How could it be, in sub-Saharan Africa’s 46 countries, there stood just one public children’s hospital?
The Red Cross constructed a facility fifty years ago in Cape Town, South Africa, yet no other country followed suit?
The report recorded over 30 pediatric institutions in the UK and 250 in the USA.
Therefore, one dedicated public hospital for an estimated 500,000 million youngsters in the sub-Saharan, whereas one per 290,000 kids in the USA?
Calculating the economics of this venture, both in construction and in service, the center would create a profound impact generating thousands of local jobs.
The concept certainly aligned with my aspirations for our newly founded charity.
(Note: Toby Tanser and the Shoe4Africa Foundation eventually built the Shoe4Africa Children’s Hospital in Eldoret!)
* * * * * * * *
Propelling forward two years, against extreme odds due to Covid-19, when donations for overseas aid all but came to a standstill, the construction funding for the cancer hospital is pretty much complete. Our little foundation has done it!
So how could I unveil this spectacular landmark project?
Naturally, the inauguration must encompass a run. The Latin word aequator translates as to make equal, and since first hearing that 1/10 versus 9/10 stat, I yearned for the balance to shift towards equality by awarding the Kenyan kids with a fighting chance.
Why not launch on the equator—fifty miles (eighty km) from Eldoret—and run to the construction site to highlight the gross inequality?
Maybe invite friends and introduce a relay concept? I called Paula Radcliffe, and she kindly agreed to help.
One by one, others stepped up, like William Tanui, the Olympic champion who chauffeured me to Eldoret in 1995, and Kip Keino, who I bumped into upon arrival.
Like Moses Tanui, a runner from that crazy first morning Kenyan jog. Everyone who listened to my ramblings pledged to partake in this historic Great Equator Run.
Then, as we all stumble, jog, or limp the final leg, we will unite with a gathering of cancer patients from our hospital for a unique groundbreaking.
Paula’s 14-year-old daughter, Isla, a cancer survivor, will pitch in the first shovel alongside a Kenyan patient from our Shoe4Africa cancer ward for an emotional finale.
On the day, I know I will shed a tear for Beryl’s memory.
But I shall focus on that —after completing this project and the Sidekick Foundation donating a 50-bed kids burns unit—I believe no pediatric centre on the continent will serve more children than at our complex in Eldoret.
Running with Destiny — An Odyssey of Mistakes, Machetes and Miracles is available at: amazon.com.