As she sprinted toward the finish line along beautiful Ocean Drive on South Beach the morning of March 9, the ocean breezes cooling her body, Risper Biyaki Gesabwa was overcome with joy over what her second straight victory in the Allstate Life Insurance SM Miami Beach 13.1 Marathon® would mean to the people close to her back home in Kenya.
That house she started building with some of the $13,100 she won on Miami Beach in 2012 will now get to be finished when she travels home this summer to Nyaribari Chache, Kisii District with her new bankroll. The starving kids, many of them parentless, will have a little more food to go with a roof over their heads. The two brothers and two sisters whom she was able to begin sending to school last year with her running winnings from America will be able to continue their studies.
"I run to support my family," said Gesabwa, now 24 who finished the Miami Beach course in 1:12:15. "If I don't run, they cannot survive."
If only she could run every week in Miami.
With her second straight victory in the Allstate Life Insurance SM Miami Beach 13.1 Marathon®, Gesabwa became the most successful runner the eight-race 13.1 Marathon series has seen since Allstate jumped on board in 2012 and teamed with US Road Sports to create the National Championship purse on Miami Beach.
"We are extremely proud to have Risper win back to back National Championships in the Allstate Life InsuranceSM 13.1 Marathon® series. Not only did she win the inaugural championship in March 2012, she came back and posted an even faster time and established a new 13.1 Series record for women," said Dave Scott, General Manager and Race Director for US Road Sports & Entertainment of Florida. "Every so often I will get a call on my cell and when I hear the voice on the other end, I know it's Risper. She is an exceptional athlete and a very gracious champion runner."
The $13,100 back-to-back winner's checks are the largest Gesabwa has won since she came to America with a special purpose in 2011. Gesabwa also won the ING Miami Half Marathon in January while setting a new course record, making it three straight wins for her in South Florida.
Her success on Miami Beach and beyond, as she runs race after race and chases the dreams of others as well as her own, is the fulfillment from her tireless work over many years to transform her body into an economic engine that can change lives.
It all began from the frustration of not being able to continue her own studies back home because her parents, trying to survive with a family of 10 living in poverty, couldn't dream of finding the money to send her to college.
After three years of sitting around every day doing nothing, Gesabwa had a vision.
"I told my parents that I had a dream that I can go to America and do something," Gesabwa said. "I told them that I could make my life better."
It isn't an accident that you see so many Kenyans become dominant on the long distance running circuits around the world. Their legs become their ticket to survival and so it was for Gesabwa, who would wake up every morning and go train, come home and eat a meal of tea and a banana, go train again and come home and eat some porridge, the staple of her family's diet because it was the cheapest way to keep everyone alive.
Life couldn't possibly be any tougher, but this is where Gesabwa, like so many of the Kenyan runners do, developed the determination and resolve that it takes to win races at distances like 13.1 or 26.2 miles.
Gesabwa was fortunate to hook up with Grace Momanyi, a fellow Kenyan who had blossomed into an international runner.
"I knew if I trained hard, I could make it," she said.
After a month, she competed in a local Kenyan race and finished 12th. By her next race, she was second.
In 2009, she traveled to France to see where she stood on the International level. She finished second there also and then first in a pair of half marathons. In 2010, she was chosen for a Kenyan National Team that traveled to Japan.
It all was great, but none of it provided a meal ticket for her or her family. When she left for the United States in February of 2011, where she could find a race almost every weekend, she had no idea if or when she would return home.
"I wanted to see how I would do against these competitive runners," Gesabwa said.
Gesabwa has finished in the top three in almost every race she has run the past two years, but nowhere has she enjoyed greater success than in these races in Miami. There is something about the style of the courses that makes her feel comfortable, like she is back home in Kenya.
She has settled in well to her life in America. She watches Christian Channel programs and a lot of basketball, especially when her favorite team, the Miami Heat, can be found on the TV in her home in Atlanta. She listens to a lot of African Swahili Gospel music, praising the Lord as she sings along to the Christian hymns. Sometimes, she will read the Bible or running books.
But more than anything she thinks about the smiles she will see when she takes her Allstate Life Insurance SM Miami Beach 13.1 Marathon® winnings back home with her to Kenya this summer.
"My parents, my family and friends are very very happy," Gesabwa said. "They pray for me. They keep asking me how do I train, how do I win and make this money and I tell them all the stories.
"I'm very grateful. I've never seen money like what I have won in Miami. And I am so happy that I can use it to save my family and the kids back home."