02:17 AM CST on Sunday, December 6, 2009
By DEBBIE FETTERMAN / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News
Scott Robinson of Santa Fe, N.M., didn’t aspire to be a sports agent. The AmeriKenyan Running Club founder sought to fill a need. Now he’s doing both. He’s bringing three Kenyan athletes to compete at next Sunday’s 40th running of the Dallas White Rock Marathon, including 2006 men’s champion Moses Kororia. The money these athletes earn helps them support their extended families in Kenya. “My job is to make sure I put them in events so they can make money,” said Robinson, 46, who is assisting Dallas officials as a consultant.
In May 2006, Robinson and his wife, Vanessa, were considering community service options when they sat by a Kenyan professional runner on their way home from Seattle. The nonstop flight gave the Robinsons three hours to learn about his plight. Within two months, the Robinsons formed their club. They’ve spent the last three years assisting runners with housing and training venues in Santa Fe. They’ve also helped contact race directors and get visas for athletes to come to the United States, and arranged for travel to races as well as housing and meals. For elite Kenyan runners, racing in America is a job. The CIA World Factbook estimated the Kenyan unemployment rate at 40 percent in 2008, but Robinson said it is more than 60 percent.
“If they can net $10,000, that’s a ton of money,” Robinson said. “The average annual income is $1,000 in Kenya.”
chasing Keino, a short film produced by Dallas native Ed Vaughan, captures the club’s essence. It was shown Wednesday at the Santa Fe Film Festival’s opening night. The title refers to Kipchoge Keino, a two-time Olympic gold medalist from Kenya who “pioneered the re-investment of time and earnings from racing back into the Kenyan community,” Vaughan reported in the film.
The Robinsons’ mission has been to facilitate their athletes’ ability to support their homeland. Robinson said they weren’t deterred when the first few athletes cost the club financially. They implemented safeguards to ensure athletes arrived from Kenya healthy and capable of running their projected times. They’ve also become more selective and limited the team. The Robinsons don’t rely on the club financially. Robinson, a mortgage lender, says it’s their way of giving back. He and Vanessa receive “a standard international fee, or commission of 15 percent of athletes’ earnings,” he said. “We pour that money back into the club after their expenses,” he added. “If we can break even, we’re delighted.”
What the Robinsons didn’t anticipate was how much of their job would revolve around things other than running. “Officially, I could be called an agent,” he said. “But our work is as much about social skills and integrity and respect as it is about athletics. I’m more of a life mentor.” Recently, 1980 U.S. Olympic triathlete Ryan Bolton joined the club as a member-coach. Bolton says he’s been amazed at how the Kenyans intuitively know their bodies. He said he agrees with the adage that American runners train too hard on the easy days and too easy on the hard days. On easy days, Bolton says, the Kenyans run painfully slow. On fast days, he struggles to keep up.
Bolton said there are similar clubs around the United States.”Being an honest agent is a pretty big deal,” Bolton said. “It’s pretty rare. A lot of times agents take advantage of athletes. Scott is honest and helps them. They recognize that, and that’s why they stick with the program.”
Dallas Morning News