Rhonex Kipruto from Kenya stormed to victory in the UAE Healthy Kidney 10 kilometre race in New York on Sunday, breaking the course record of 27:35 in a time of 27:08.
The 18 year old from Kenya delivered the fastest ever 10k road race time on US soil and as well as the US$10,000 prize money, also claimed the US$30,000 Zayed Bonus Prize for the record in a UAE-sponsored race - also known as the Zayed Charity Marathon - which raises funds for kidney research.
“The weather was very cold but we managed to do it,” Kipruto told The National minutes after winning. “It feels good. I was not expecting to win.”
More coverage of the Zayed Marathon from New York:
How the UAE supports research into a disease that afflicted the Founding Father
His compatriot Mathew Kimeli came second and also broke the record, while Ethiopian Buze Diriba took the female race with a time of 32:04. “I’m very happy. It’s an important and big race,” she said.
Now in its 14th year, the run is sponsored by the UAE Embassy, organised by the New York Road Runners (NYRR) and supports the National Kidney Foundation’s work. Since 2005 there has been more than a $1 million raised between direct donations and the runners themselves. The race also partly stems from the kidney transplant that the late President, Sheikh Zayed, received in the United States.
Close to 8,000 runners from across the globe, both professional and amateur, set off around Central Park at 9am. A cold start and early morning rain gave way to reasonably sunny skies by 11am.
Across the route, Year of Zayed logos, Emirati and US flags and runners wearing shirts from previous UAE 10k races could be seen. A festival area in Central Park’s bandshell allowed people to sample Emirati culture while a guest appearance by singer Flo Rida energised the post-race crowds.
Majid Al Suwaidi is consul general of the United Arab Emirates in New York and also ran the race.
“This race is really critical in terms of how many people through this learn so much about the need for kidney research and also about the patients,” he said.
“Our president, Sheikh Zayed, was a sufferer who was treated here in New York and this really celebrates him and raises awareness,” said Mr Al Suwaidi.
“This race is so well known in New York City and I feel very proud throughout the year when I see people wearing UAE shirts, remembering Sheikh Zayed and especially in this Year of Zayed, it’s important to celebrate the amazing things he did for our country.”
Two Emiratis representing Dubai Municipality also travelled from the UAE for the race and spoke beforehand about their pride.
“This race is a special event,” said Hashim al Quraishi, 47.
“It’s a Zayed race in the Year of Zayed so we are so proud. We are amateurs but love running and are here to participate and represent our country.”
Sultan Al Saadi, 27, said: “I follow news of the race every year through social media. I’m happy to participate.”
At the festival area, sponsors including the Al Habtoor Group, the National Kidney Foundation, Dubai Municipality and more had a presence there and prizes were given out to lucky participants including a return trip to Abu Dhabi. Emirati volunteers were also helping people to learn about the country.
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“I feel really proud,” said Emirati Ahmed Al Marzooqi, 28, who is doing a PhD in organisational leadership in Los Angeles and is from Abu Dhabi.
“People ask about our culture, our food and the story of our country – how it developed and went from a desert to having the tallest building in the world.”
People milled around after the race, sampled dates, heard about Expo 2020, looked at an installation of Sheikh Zayed and also some got traditional henna while sitting in a majlis area. “I used to get it on my past travels,” said Rosey Marchioii, 50, who was getting henna after finishing the run.
“I do the [run] every year, it’s a great run and they have awesome giveaways. I would say the best giveaways. And it’s for a good cause,” said Ms Marchioii, who is from Italy but has been living in New York for 20 years.
The UAE Healthy Kidney 10k run has become so popular in New York that it’s now seen as the kick off to the spring racing series.
Peter Ciaccia is president of events at the NYRR.
“[It’s just] the whole atmosphere in the park: the trees are blooming, it looks really pretty and it’s the whole experience. Having the Embassy of the UAE as our partner for all these years allowed us to bring in these great pro-racers. We are very thankful and they are a great partner,” he said.
“What is really cool is what’s on display is what their culture is all about. The connection with the kidney foundation is also really important,” said Mr Ciaccia.
A delegation from the UAE including General Mohammed Al Kaabi, chairman of the UAE Armed Forces Officers Club, and Mohammed Khalaf Al Habtoor, vice chairman of the Al Habtoor Group attended the race along with dignitaries based in the United States.
The UAE team visited the National Kidney Foundation during the week to see how funds are being spent. They also visited the Nasdaq stock exchange and the famous display facing Times Square lit up with the Emirati flag.