Victoria community steps up for Kenyan refugee runner staying at emergency shelter


Joshua Koromei has a clear-cut goal. He plans on not only running in, but winning the BMO Vancouver Marathon.

The Kenyan refugee has only been in Canada since November, and after a six week stint in Montreal, he’s found his training home in Victoria.

“It’s my turning point to start a new life,” says the 36-year-old.

Koromei was granted refugee status, fleeing Kenya’s rural Baringo County, an area rife with organized crime, theft and murder – much of it centering around cattle rustling, which in recent years has spiraled from theft of livestock into violence and murder.

Koromei says gun-toting bandits and the constant threat of death made life unbearable. “Life is terrible,” he says. “If you wake up well, you say thank you to God.”

Koromei’s eight siblings and parents are still in Kenya, and while he worries for their safety daily, he’s in Canada seeking a new start.

A few weeks ago on a walk down Blanshard Street in Victoria on his way to a refugee service centre, he stopped in at Popeye’s Supplements. He bought whatever supplements he could on a tight budget, and according to Popeye’s owner Chris Kinnear, made an impression on the staff.

“Basically, he came in when I wasn’t here and my staff said I think you want to talk to this guy,” says owner Chris Kinnear.

He reached out and realized Koromei had nothing. His work permit had not yet processed, he had no money, and was housed at the Salvation Army Addictions and Rehabilitation Centre in downtown Victoria.

“Our government brought him here and hasn’t [done] much to support him since,” says Kinnear.

Seeing Koromei not getting adequate nutrition to train, Popeye’s stepped up and is supplying supplements.

“I think the most important thing for his health is running,” says Kinnear. He recruited Rob McCulloch, owner of The Fitness Academy, to provide gym time.

“I thought, why not? This is an awesome chance to give back to the community,” says McCulloch.

Victoria’s running community has stepped up as well, offering free entrance fees to Island series races, including this weekend’s Westcoast Sooke 10K.

Koromei trains in a group led by coach Bruce Deacon. “We just really focused on the immediate [needs], like what can we do to help? How can we support you and where are you living? We’re trying to find a place where he could stay,” says Deacon.

Koromei says it’s difficult to sleep at night at the emergency shelter, but he’s grateful for the kindness he’s receiving. “I have to appreciate it,” he says. “They welcome me.”

He’d rather train than complain. “Everything is about appreciation here in life,” he says. ” No complaining. Everything is about appreciation.”

With his new community backers looking to find more permanent housing for him, Kormei’s work permit was processed and he can look for work while eyeing a major short-term goal.

“I want to win the BMO Vancouver Marathon,” he says with a laugh.

Koromei’s marathon time is in the 2:30:00 area, which he says he can best. He plans on paying back the kindness of strangers by winning the coast’s major marathons not as a visitor, but as a local.

“I want to not only win the Vancouver Marathon but the Victoria Marathon too. I want to defend the area,” he says.

Sunday’s race in Sooke isn’t just a race, but the first steps in the right direction.

Jordan Cunningham

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