The Long-Distance Savior: Makorobondo “Dee” Salukombo – Runner’s World

The Long-Distance Savior: Makorobondo “Dee” Salukombo  Runner’s World

Perhaps it’s not surprising that he’s a runner. Not when you consider his birthplace. “This is Congo,” says Makorobondo “Dee” Salukombo, 28. “People run to …

Perhaps it’s not surprising that he’s a runner. Not when you consider his birthplace. “This is Congo,” says Makorobondo “Dee” Salukombo, 28. “People run to save their lives.”

Since 1996, civil wars have killed nearly 6 million people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo—more than any other conflict since World War II. The central African country is infamous for sexual violence and its estimated 30,000 child soldiers.

Salukombo and his family fled their village of Kirotshe, near the Rwandan border, in 2001, and eventually ended up in Cleveland, Ohio. There, Salukombo ran both in high school and at Denison University, a Division III school for which he was a six-time All-American in cross country and track.

After graduating in 2012, Salukombo started ProjectKirotshe, a youth running program with an educational focus based in his former village. With a $10,000 grant from Davis Projects for Peace and donations from institutions and individuals, he shipped 13,000 textbooks, 55 computers, and athletic equipment to supply the village’s new community learning center and running team. Then he returned home for the first time, to launch his vision of turning kids into students and runners.

hero long-distance savior makorobondo "dee" salukombo with photo of running students

Through donations, ProjectKirotshe pays their school expenses, roughly $50 for primary school, $100 for secondary, and $500 for college—steep fees in a country where the per capita income is $442. At press time, the organization, now called the Kirotshe Foundation, had provided funds for approximately 64 students in 2016. In a country where militants lure kids with guns and money, education is critical, says Salukombo.

The kids simultaneously participate in running groups and compete in local- and national-level events. “By running together, they’re creating a family that most never had” after war left them orphans, says Salukombo. His top runners log about 80 miles a week, and Salukombo spent much of the last year training with them as well as coaching them. In August, he and his best runner, 5,000-meter ace Beatrice Kamuchanga, 18, went to Rio to represent DR Congo in the Olympics. Kamuchanga didn’t advance out of her heat, and Salukombo finished 113th in the marathon (in 2:28:54), but it was being there that mattered most, he says. “The Games gave the youth confidence to believe they can get that first Olympic medal for Congo.”

Salukombo is now back in Cleveland, fundraising and coaching his runners remotely. He is determined to help as many kids as he can. “Why not use my strength to try to inspire them?”

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The 2017 Heroes of Running have faced doubt, adversity, and unimaginably long odds. Yet they all found the grit, grace, and humility to succeed—and inspire. Read their stories.