Asembo Bay Women for Development

Young racer keeps Kenyan roots close to his heart

BY TIM BAINES, OTTAWA SUN

The story -- an amazing yarn that's about perseverance and the love between a mother and her adopted son -- has been told before, guaranteed to bring on a teardrop or two.

DevlinTaillon DavidKogei

Eight-year-old Devlin Taillon looks up to his running mentor and hero David Kogei, who is an elite runner from Kenya, after they ran the Scotiabank Ottawa Kids Marathon together on Sunday May 24, 2015. Errol McGihon/Ottawa Sun/Postmedia Network

On Sunday, a new chapter was written when eight-year-old Devlin Taillon crossed the finish line in the 1.2-km Kids Marathon, one of the events in the Tamarack Homes Ottawa Race Weekend. It wasn't about the final placing (he finished 197th out of 867 competitors with a time of 4:25.3). It was about the guy who ran side by side with him every step of the race -- David Kogei, who placed third the night before in the Ottawa 10K. It was about the boy's mother, Peggy Taillon, who made so many sacrifices and spent so many tireless hours making sure against all odds she could adopt a Kenyan child. And it was about a special boy who was born to a 14-year-old Kenyan mother, who wanted her child to have a better life so many miles away. And somewhere sandwiched in the middle of all of that, fate stepped in.

"We got approached by Race Weekend with this great idea to pair Devlin with one of the (Kenyan) elite athletes," said Peggy. "They approached the elite athletes and said, 'Here's the story.' David saw it, he was very emotional and he contacted us and said it would be an honour to run with Devlin. What a good mentor and role model to have. He came third (in the 10K) and told Devlin he was sorry he let him down. To Devlin, he was a hero."

After finishing Sunday's race, Devlin said Kogei was encouraging him throughout the race.

"He was telling me, 'Run, run, run," said Devlin, who admits when he runs with his mom, sometimes he has to tell her, 'Mommy, you're so slow.'"

The mother, who became a legal guardian to Devlin's birth mom Anyango Akama, said it's important to have her son keep his Kenyan ties close to his heart.

"When I adopted him, I made a promise to a lot of people and to Kenya," she said. "I said that in the court the day our adoption went through. I want Devlin to feel really proud of Kenya. When we go back and he sees the poverty and how people are struggling, you get left with that because it's so jarring. When you see these success stories of these people who were living in very similar conditions, it's great for him to see that."

When they returned to Kenya in January of 2014, Devlin met Anyango and the boy's birth family.

"They treated him like a hero coming home," said Peggy.

It certainly looks like it's a bright, bright future for the boy, who goes to Alta Vista Public School.

"Devlin is really, really athletic," said Peggy. "He is the kind of kid who runs everywhere he goes. He's got this natural stride and he's never winded. I have no doubt he'll be a runner. When he was in junior kindergarten, we took a shortcut through school and we can see all these kids are running laps. It's Grade 1s to 8s so I said to the teacher, 'Can the kindergartens run?' She says, 'Sure, I don't see why not.' He's wearing a jean jacket, shorts and a fedora. He gets in the run and the next thing you know he's at the front, he's passed everybody. He does six laps and comes off and says, 'How do you think I did, mom?' His hat wasn't even crooked."

And for Peggy, she continues to work hard for Hera Mission of Canada, an organization she founded in 2008. The mission supports women leading development projects empowering widows, grandmothers and children in western Kenya (heramission.org).