A young athlete with a fledgling distance running career, Kiplimo Chemirmir looked set for life.
He had just put up a house in Ayany Estate, Nairobi, and was pretty well settled down when life took a dramatic turn for the worse.
Having just landed at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport from Switzerland, Chemirmir couldn’t have imagine what awaited him at his new residence.
It was the height of the 2007-08 post-election violence and Kenya was fragile.
“When I was dropped off from the airport, I found my house on fire,” he recalled in an interview at Nation Centre yesterday.
“I tried to get what I could, but some of the people around said ‘they are coming for you.’
“I dropped down my luggage and started to run. Fortunately, a police car on patrol was driving by and one of the policemen told me to jump in.
“And as we drove off, a petrol bomb was hurled at the car which made the policemen very angry and they blamed me for their misfortune.” Chemirmir says he then handed one of the policemen 100 Euros (Sh11,400 in today’s exchange rates) which cooled things down a bit, and the policemen dropped him off at Wilson Airport where his uncle worked as a pilot, and from where he was eventually evacuated to his family home near Eldama Ravine.
“I did not have much money because all the money that I had, I had invested in my house.”
While back home, the post-election troubles followed him.
“We were told that raiders were looking for athletes, claiming the athletes were fanning the violence,” he recollected.
“This forced me to hide in the bush, and, for three days, I was in a cave behind a waterfall, barely surviving with just water to get by.”
Fast-forward to his diving into physiotherapy.
Growing up as a young boy, Chemirmir loved watching movies starring Hong Kong-American actor and martial artist, Bruce Lee.
“It was interesting how he (Bruce Lee) was able to combine karate, taekwondo, boxing and even ballet into the art of Jeet Kune Do.
“It was after the Kenyan athletics trials of 2007 that I decided to go to China and study Chinese massage and I was lucky I got a friend who paid for me everything.”
Chemirmir excelled in his studies, and was introduced to a contact in Thailand where he proceeded to study Thai massage.
“Thai massage is a lot similar to American chiropractor (manipulation of the musculoskeletal system especially through the manual adjustment of the spinal vertebrae to correct nervous system dysfunction).
“I was interested to learn more about other forms of therapy, and after I lost my house and everything, I had an opportunity to go to America,” he recalls.
Having landed in the US, and settled in Dallas, Texas, Chemirmir started competing in road races, principally to make ends meet.
Besides athletics and study, what drove Chemirmir to America was his sister, Betty, who had suffered a rheumatic heart disease.
He would feature in up to three road races a week — winning two marathons, finishing second and third in many — which would later take a toll on him, physically.
“The races were too close to each other but I wanted to do it for my sister,” he narrates.
“I would win 50 dollars in a race, another 200 in another race.
“I used to run the marathon but I didn’t have the endurance to finish!,” adds Chemirmir who posted personal best times of two hours and 32 minutes for the marathon, one minute, 44 seconds for the 800 metres and 13:14 in the five kilometres road race.
“My grandfather warned me not to allow anyone shed tears over something that I can help. He told me I should never see a woman cry.
“I had stopped running, but I started running in the US so that I could get money to help my sister.
“The doctors said she could not go past 13 years, then it was 18, but now she’s old, she has a child and both of them are healthy. Being there for her is an achievement I’m very proud of.”
“I also wanted to take my massage classes in the US. It was difficult in the beginning, and while I was learning chiropractic I also took classes in osteopathy (treatment of illnesses by physically manipulating muscle tissue and bones).”
Chemirmir married in the US but ran out of his visa. However, as he had a son with his ex-wife, he managed to get the papers to stay on.
It then took him eight years, and lots of money, to get his Green Card that would allow him to live and work in USA. “It took me almost $75,000 (Sh7.5 million) just going through the lawyers. The worst thing was losing (custody of) my son to my ex-wife, and also getting paralysed.”
Things got a lot worse for Chemirmir, who is now 36, when he suffered paralysis after he was twisted the wrong way by a chiropractor.
“I was for two and a half years not able to walk,” he recalled.
Chemirmir credits fellow athlete, Laban Moiben, who won the 2011 Ottawa Marathon, for helping him settle in USA.
He has since handled top global athletes, including Great Britain’s multiple world and Olympic distance running gold medallist Mo Farah, several Americans, including Leo Manzano (Olympic 800m silver medallist), last year’s Boston Marathon silver medallist Jordan Hasay and Kenya-born American Paul Chelimo, the 2016 Rio Olympics 5,000 metres silver medallist.
He’s also worked with celebrities and baseball stars, including Venezuelan second baseman Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros in Major League Baseball.
Currently on his first trip to Kenya since travelling to USA over eight years ago, Chemimir, an alumnus of Sagasagik Primary School and Baringo High School, sees a lot of change in Kenya.
He’s planning to invest in setting up a centre for people with albinism on his family’s 90-acre land near Eldama Ravine, help them learn a trade and start businesses. His initial plan is to set aside $4,000 (Sh400,000) for each graduate to help them set up businesses.
“I don’t want to be paid. I just wanna help them, just like Wangari Mathaai helped by planting trees.
“I hope to meet President Uhuru Kenyatta and the First Lady some day and ask for their help to make this project a success.
“I’d also like to meet the President of Tanzania because that’s where people with albinism have lots of problems.
“What they will be doing at the sanctuary is to learn trades like carpentry, painting, pottery and so on, which take up to one year to study, and then they can start their businesses where we support them.”
Chemirmir is in Kenya for the next couple of weeks, but plans to return towards the end of the year to formalize his union with his fiancé Chelsea.
“I also want to take her to the Masai Mara because she has been dreaming of seeing the animals over there,” he adds as he packs up his $35,000 (Sh3.5 million) ‘Human Tecar’ physiotherapy machine.
He’s just completed physiotherapy sessions with about a dozen Nation Football Club players who’ve been struggling with aches and pains after a long, three-match friendlies tour of Western Kenya and the North Rift last weekend.
It pains him to see athletes in discomfort, and, indeed, it pained him to see US-based 800 metres sensation, Michael Saruni — a protégé of 1988 Olympic 800 metres champion Paul Ereng at the University of Texas, El Paso — fail to qualify for the World Championships at Thursday’s Athletics Kenya trials. Saruni is battling a hamstring injury and failed to make Friday’s final of the two-lap race at Nyayo National Stadium.
Saruni and college-mate Emmanuel Korir have both been on Chemirmir’s physiotherapy table at his Houston-based consultancy, Kiprunning Sports Massage (Osteopath and Physiotherapy).
He advises athletes to invest in education and alternative forms of revenue generation.
“If, for instance, an athlete gets injured and is unable to run, he or she needs something to fall back on,” he says.
“I’m lucky I learnt physiotherapy because it has helped me after my running career.”