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Elite marathoner Wesley Korir fondly recalls the call

Marathrunner Wesley Korir talked Professor Casey Bowles' Chicago marathclass DePaul University's loop campus. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

Marathon runner Wesley Korir talked to Professor Casey Bowles' Chicago marathon class at DePaul University's loop campus. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 20, 2012 6:20AM

Wesley Korir was in a van on his way back to Louisville when the phone call came in October of 2008.

‘‘Best call I ever got,’’ Korir said Monday evening before he spoke to a freshman class at the downtown DePaul campus.

That call led to the entwining of Korir’s rise in marathon running and the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

Now Carey Pinkowski can joke about the events leading to his call.

‘‘Five years ago I won’t let him run with the elite runners, and now I am picking him up at the airport,’’ the executive race director said.

He’s exaggerating only slightly. Korir, a Kenyan who had to start five minutes back with the open runners in 2008, ran the fourth fastest time. Pinkowski called afterward to say they were recognizing his finish, including the $15,000 elite-runner money for fourth.

‘‘This is where my life began as a professional,’’ Korir said.

The marathon career of Korir, who graduated from Louisville with a degree in biology, was ignited and his plans to go into pre-med were put on hold.

Korir has run Chicago every year since. Last year he finished second with a personal best (2:06:15). He’s won the L.A. Marathon twice and the 2012 Boston Marathon in a tactical race, maybe helped by lessons learned in Chicago.

‘‘No one was more excited than we were after he won the Boston Marathon,’’ Pinkowski said.

As much as the Chicago Marathon has become one of the world’s top races, it has also become part of the fabric of Chicago as its greatest participatory athletic event.

So much so that DePaul has had a class on it for nearly a decade in its Discover Chicago program for freshmen downtown. Casey Bowles has taught it for six years. For several years before, Andrew Suozzo, author of The Chicago Marathon, taught it.

Pinkowski and Korir spoke to the class on Monday. The half-hour talk and extended Q&A was gripping.

‘‘I used to imagine a green land over there,’’ said Korir, who described how they lived on a corn meal and vegetable stew for days on end so they could celebrate Christmas with rice and meat.

‘‘When you open the fridge, say, ‘Thank you, God,’ ’’
he said.

He described running everywhere for his mother and running five miles one way to school. The humble context of his life and his unabashed belief in God’s will may explain why Korir is one of the most humble international superstars and one of the most philanthropic.

A student asked what he thought of his chances this year.

‘‘Maybe this is the year,’’ Korir said. ‘‘I am very excited. This place is like home to me.’’

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