Video: Marathoner uses fame to fight hunger

By Correspondent
NBC News
updated 1/20/2006 7:37:52 PM ET 2006-01-21T00:37:52

It was a dramatic come-from-behindfinish at last year's New York Marathon for 36-year-old Paul Tergat. He wasn't the odds-on favorite, but Tergat has neverrun from adversity.

"When I was a kid myself, I never knew that I would have a chance of being who I am today," he says.

Growing up, he knew only the stark poverty of Kenya's Rift Valley, where his family turned cornmeal into porridge to feed 17 kids. And there was never enough. He would sometimes go a day or two without food.

"Honestly, I want to say that life was very hard," says Tergat.

Until the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) showed up at his school. And for the first time, at the age of 8, Tergat had a hot lunch every day to feed his body and mind.

"Because you cannot, as a kid, you cannot [sic] able to concentrate with empty stomach," he says.

Tergat says that daily meal fueled his learning and athletic development, culminating in two silver Olympic medals, and in 2003, a world marathon record.

But he had even higher goals.

"He came back to our offices in Nairobi and said I want to pay back to the World Food Program for what they did, you know, in changing my life," says Judith Lewis, executive director of the WFP.

Tergat now serves as ambassador against hunger for the program, which feeds 113 million people a year in 82 countries. Yet the agency says 800 million others still don't get enough to eat.

Tergat misses no chance to leverage his celebrity, lobbying donors including the U.S. government, already the single biggest contributor. He used his victory in New York to focus attention on an issue that rarely makes headlines.

"It is like running a race, because you find that there are so many people that do not know what they are going to have in the next day," he says.

It is a marathonof desperate need, with no finish line yet in sight.

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