Nov 1, 2013

Cut and Run

Legions of athletes, sports gurus, and scientists have tried to figure out why Kenyans dominate long-distance running. In this short, we stumble across a surprising, and sort of terrifying, explanation.

At the 1968 summer Olympics in Mexico City, Kipchoge Keino overcame a gall bladder infection to win gold in the 1500 meter race. Since then, one particular group of Kenyans - the Kalenjin - has produced an astonishing number of great long-distance runners. Gregory Warner - NPR's East Africa correspondent - takes Jad and Robert down a rabbit hole of theories about what exactly is going on in Kalenjin country.  

David Epstein and John Manners help Greg untangle a web of potential factors - from something in the cornmeal to simple economics. And, after talking to a young Kalenjin runner named Elly Kipgogei, Greg discovers a somewhat disturbing explanation for Kalenjin running prowess that actually makes him want to get on the treadmill and push himself just a little harder. 

 

Check out a video of Kipchoge Keino's 1968 Olympic 1500m run:

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JAD ABUMRAD:

Hey wait, you're listening -

 

Speaker 2:

Okay.

 

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All right.

 

Speaker 2:

Okay.

 

JAD ABUMRAD:

All right

 

Speaker 2:

You are listening to Radiolab. [multiple voices]

 

JAD ABUMRAD:

Radiolab.

 

Speaker 3:

Shorts!

 

Speaker 2:

From

 

JAD ABUMRAD:

WNYC [crosstalk 00:00:16].

 

Speaker 2:

And NPR

 

JAD ABUMRAD:

Hey I'm Jad Abumrad.

 

ROBERT KRULWICH:

I'm Robert Krulwich.

 

JAD ABUMRAD:

This is Radiolab

 

ROBERT KRULWICH:

The podcast.

 

JAD ABUMRAD:

And today since we are right about to have the New York City Marathon zip through our neighborhoods here in New York.

 

ROBERT KRULWICH:

We have a puzzle. Yeah, it's a puzzle.

 

JAD ABUMRAD:

Yeah, it's a puzzle. Yes, it is a puzzle and it comes from NPR's East Africa Correspondent, Gregory Warner.

 

Gregory Warner:

I prepared for this story, by taking a jog through Nairobi.

 

JAD ABUMRAD:

All right so where do we start with this Greg?

 

Gregory Warner:

I think we should start in 1968. I mean there's a lot of places we could start but let's start there. Let's try it. So, 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.

 

Video Clip:

Mexico City! Thankfully, a city of peace on the Olympic's opening day.

 

Gregory Warner:

At 7900 feet, one of the highest elevated Olympic's; and that's difficult for runners because there's less oxygen.

 

Gregory Warner:

And one of the big races that everybody's looking forward to is the 1500 meter. Between the 23 year-old American favorite, Jim Ryan.

 

Video Clip:

Jim Ryan of America, number 300.

 

Gregory Warner:

He's the world record holder. And this guy named Kipchoge Keino.

 

Video Clip:

Kip Keino of Kenya, number 565.

 

Gregory Warner:

Kip Keino, he's called

 

JAD ABUMRAD:

Kip Keino.

 

Gregory Warner:

They bill him as an untrained Nandi tribesman from Kenya. He's actually a policeman, from a long line of cattle wrestlers.

 

Video Clip:

200 meters, Martyn Woodroffe is to win a silver.

 

Gregory Warner:

And here's what you need to know about Kip. He's running 3 different races at this Olympic's.

 

Video Clip:

And now he's back for the 1500 meters.

 

Gregory Warner:

Not only the 1500, but also the 5 thousand meter, and the 10 thousand meter. If you include the qualifying matches he will be running 6 Olympic events in 8 days.

 

JAD ABUMRAD:

Wow.

 

Gregory Warner:

6 races in 8 days, which would never be done today, was hardly done then. So first up

 

Video Clip:

The 10 thousand meter!

 

Gregory Warner:

The 10 thousand meter race. He's in the lead, two laps away from finishing when he collapses. He falls off the track. He gets rushed to the Kenyan doctor who's a German guy, who diagnoses him with a gallbladder infection. Which, turns out, is incredibly painful. Actually hurts the most when you take deep breathes, like, when you're running. And if you don't treat it, your gallbladder could burst.

 

Gregory Warner:

So, basically the doctor sends Kip to bed, says there's no way you can run. But Kip, he runs the next race anyway. Ends up getting silver.

 

JAD ABUMRAD:

Wow.

 

Gregory Warner:

He's sent to bed by the German doctor again, who literally says: "Okay, this time you have to stay in bed. If you run anymore races you could die."

 

Video Clip:

Back to the track for one of the most memorable events of the whole games. The 1500 meters.

 

Gregory Warner:

Three days later it's the big match up against Jim Ryan. And Kip, apparently he just leapt out of bed an hour before the race and he said something like "If I die, I'm going to die on the track." [crosstalk 00:03:05]

 

Gregory Warner:

So, Kip Keino starts off.

 

Video Clip:

They're up and running, three and three-quarter laps of the stadium.

 

Gregory Warner:

He starts out dead last.

 

Video Clip:

Keino, running last and then moving up to the middle of the pack now.[crosstalk 00:03:17]

 

Gregory Warner:

By the end of the first lap he's in third.

 

Video Clip:

[inaudible 00:03:19] Germany second, Kip Keino third.

 

Gregory Warner:

On the third lap, he takes the lead.

 

Video Clip:

And here comes Kip Keino, coming up with his teammate.

 

Gregory Warner:

He goes ahead, but that's okay for Jim Ryan. Jim Ryan is known to have the greatest kick in the sport.

 

ROBERT KRULWICH:

Kick?

 

Gregory Warner:

Kick. Right at the end of the race, every runner gives this extra boost. And Ryan's go the best kick in the business.

 

Video Clip:

Jim Ryan is beginning to move.

 

Gregory Warner:

So he's thinking

 

Video Clip:

The kick is beginning

 

Gregory Warner:

There's no way that Kip Keino, at altitude, suffering a gallbladder infection can hold out against my kick.

 

Video Clip:

He's closing very rapidly

 

Gregory Warner:

And in the final lap, it looks like he's right. He starts shooting up the field, gaining on Kip Keino, who is clearly in pain.

 

Gregory Warner:

He's sort of grimacing, gritting his teeth.

 

Video Clip:

Going to pick up 300 yards left, the crowd is going mad.

 

Gregory Warner:

Lurching

 

Video Clip:

Keino, 200 meters left

 

Gregory Warner:

to the finish line. And even though he's in an ungodly amount of pain. Even though pain is shooting through his entire body, amazingly,

 

Video Clip:

And Keino will never be caught

 

Gregory Warner:

he does not slow down. Jim Ryan never catches him.

 

Video Clip:

The Kenyan, beaten in the 5 thousand meters with speed.

 

Gregory Warner:

And he wins.

 

Video Clip:

Shows the world record holder the way home. And Ryan completely misjudged this.

 

John Manners:

When he hung on around that last turn, it was, oh, I was hysterical.

 

Gregory Warner:

This is John Manners.

 

John Manners:

I'm a semi-retired journalist who for many years had a specialty in covering the exploits of Kenyan runners, African runners in general.

 

Gregory Warner:

He was watching that race

 

John Manners:

in a bar, of about 50 miles North of New York.

 

Gregory Warner:

But as a kid, Manners actually lived in the part of Kenya that Kip Keino is from.

 

John Manners:

My people.

 

Gregory Warner:

And so when Keino won gold, it sparked a question for Manners that he would spend the next 40 years thinking about.

 

John Manners:

I wanted to find a reason why my people, as I chose to regard them, were great.

 

Gregory Warner:

Because on that day in 1968, Kip Keino didn't just win a race. He ushered in an era of East African dominance in the sport.

 

Video Clip:

It's Kenya one, it's Kenya two, it's Kenya five

 

Gregory Warner:

That is almost hard to believe.

 

Video Clip:

The Kenyan's have done it again! One, two,and three. Yep, it was once again the Kenyans, the eighth successive gold medal in Olympic history. Time. It's a world record! A world record!

 

JAD ABUMRAD:

So 1968 was the beginning of the Kenyan dominance in running.

 

Gregory Warner:

Yeah, but,

 

David Epstein:

In the United States we think of Kenyan's as being good runners, but really, if it's one tiny, small, geographic swath within Kenya where all the runners come from.

 

Gregory Warner:

That's David Epstein, he's a senior editor at Sports Illustrated. He wrote a book called The Sports Gene, and the "geographic swath" that he's talking about, is in Western Kenya. It's a mountainous region, spread out about the size of Massachusetts. And the people who live there are a particular tribe of Kenyans called,

 

David Epstein:

the Kalenjin.

 

Gregory Warner:

Pretty small group of people.

 

David Epstein:

This tribe accounts for about .06 percent of the World's population. But from this one tiny tribe has come this unbelievable found of talent that I think is unparalleled in any other sport ever.

 

Gregory Warner:

There's all kinds of statistics.

 

David Epstein:

It almost becomes laughable. There have been five American high school runners who have broken 4 minutes in a mile.

 

Gregory Warner:

The first was actually Jim Ryan.

 

David Epstein:

But there's one high school in Iten in Kenya that had 4 sub-4 milers at the same time. There's seventeen American men in history who have run under 210 in the marathon. That's about 4 minutes and 58 seconds per mile pace. 17 American men in history. There were 32 Kalenjin who did it in October, of 2011.

 

David Epstein:

So you start to look at these statistics, and it appears to be the greatest concentration of elite athletic talent ever. In any sport, anywhere in the world.

 

John Manners:

And that is the question, I mean, how does that happen?

 

Gregory Warner:

That was John Manners question, 40 years ago.

 

John Manners:

Something has to account for that extraordinary set of numbers. But what?

 

Gregory Warner:

And there have been any number of scientists and sports gurus and athletes that have gone to this place to figure out what's happening. What's the secret here? And there's all kinds of theories. Like, something about the tree that they used to make the spoon which they use to mix the cornmeal.

 

JAD ABUMRAD:

What would the tree do?

 

Gregory Warner:

Well, this was this Swedish scientist who came in and looked at Ugali, which is like cornmeal, it's the basic staple food of Kenyans. Because he wanted to mix it with the water from the spring, in the pot that Kalenjin use, thinking that something chemical was happening there that was making these guys run super fast.

 

JAD ABUMRAD:

What?

 

Gregory Warner:

I mean, it's kind of silly, but a lot of people here tell me it's the bananas. But people have also suggested some more reasonable theories.

 

John Manners:

Well,

 

Gregory Warner:

According to John Manners.

 

John Manners:

People talk a lot about altitude and the ability to process oxygen and what have you.

 

Gregory Warner:

Other people have said it's because the Kalenjin have a high starchy diet.

 

John Manners:

Or because they run to school, that's a very prominent phenomena. We know that the runners that come from the Kalenjin tribe, that become great runners, they're much more likely to have run to and from school. Long distances, like 10K to and from school.

 

Gregory Warner:

But,

 

John Manners:

There are millions of kids in Kenya who run to and from school.

 

Gregory Warner:

Or who live at altitude. The problem with all these, is that these are not specific to the Kalenjin.

 

John Manners:

Yeah.

 

Gregory Warner:

So then you get the socioeconomic arguments. The salary of a runner is attractive. You know, $10 or $20 thousand dollars a year seems like a fortune worth striving for. But the country's not so poor that it can't send competitors to the athletic competitions.

 

John Manners:

This is Malcolm Gladwell's argument actually.

 

David Epstein:

Very close.

 

Gregory Warner:

Yeah.

 

John Manners:

But there's a social pressure to it that this is how you get out.

 

Gregory Warner:

Yeah. There's so many role models. I mean every village has some kind of champion. The problem with that argument, I mean there's actually no problem with the argument, it makes sense but it doesn't say how the Kalenjin got so good in the first place, that they created these role models.

 

John Manners:

I mean, where did the role models come from?

 

Gregory Warner:

So the idea you're left with is, maybe there's something genetically different about them, that makes them better than us. This is obviously a dangerous idea. In fact, when David Epstein was writing his book about sports and athletics.

 

David Epstein:

I almost backed out of writing the book because I was going to have to address ethnic differences and gender differences. I really did almost back out of it. There were scientists who confessed to me that they were withholding data.

 

Gregory Warner:

That they had studies that showed a genetic advantage, but they wouldn't show him because they were afraid that they would lose tenure. But he says you have to acknowledge the obvious

 

David Epstein:

One aspect of innate biology that clearly helps Kalenjin, that's been studied by scientist, is their body build. So the Kalenjin is what's called a Nilotic people. They have ancestry at very low latitude. I was criss-crossing the equator when I was visiting their training camps. And when you have your ancestry in hot and dry climate, you evolve a certain body type for cooling. And we know this, we've known this for over a century, it's called Allen's Rule. That organisms, not just humans, all organisms that evolve in hot and dry climates have a certain body type.

 

Gregory Warner:

Mainly

 

David Epstein:

Very long and thin limbs, so that there's a lot of surface area through which heat can dissipate. Their limbs get thinner the farther away they get from their center of gravity, so they have extremely thin ankles, and extremely thin calves, which is particularly important because your leg is like a pendulum, and the more weight you have farther away from your center of gravity, the more difficult it is to swing. This has been tested in the lab too, right? So you take a runner, and put eight pounds of weight around their waist. It increases the energy they have to use to run at a given pace, but if you take that same eight pounds, and put it in the form of two four pound weights around their ankles, it's like over twenty five percent, the increase in energy they need to run at the same pace.

 

Gregory Warner:

So if you have fat ankles, find a different sport?

 

David Epstein:

Right, you're not going to win the New York Marathon if you have thick ankles.

 

Gregory Warner:

And so it gets you to this place where you think "Well, I don't know, maybe Kalenjin from this area, maybe they have this built-in advantage." It's physics.

 

JAD ABUMRAD:

I don't know, somehow like I, to just peg it all on physics smells like an argument that I really don't like.

 

ROBERT KRULWICH:

No, nobody likes it.

 

Gregory Warner:

I don't think it's a question of like or dislike, I think it's just not the reason I watch the Olympics. I mean, going back to Kip Keino,

 

Video Clip:

Kenyan shows the world record holder the way home.

 

Gregory Warner:

Who overcame a gallbladder infection to break the Olympic world record in 1968, he didn't win because he had thin ankles, he won because of something, which is the reason we watch sports, you know, it's that essence, that willpower

 

JAD ABUMRAD:

Triumph over adversity

 

Gregory Warner:

Right

 

JAD ABUMRAD:

The triumph of the human over everything

 

ROBERT KRULWICH:

Yes.

 

Gregory Warner:

And this is where I ran across a completely new, fascinating and somewhat terrifying way of explaining why the Kalenjin are so good. And, it's an idea that eventually led me to go to Kalenjin country myself. That's a perfect way of beginning a little cow hoot. You get to Iten, which is in the mountains, the air is cool, so there's a lot of cows, lot of people. And around 5:30-6:00am, all you hear is the pitter-patter of feet, and then all these people just pass you all of a sudden, and then you know you wait for a few more seconds and then people pass you again because everybody is running. I even started morning jogging when I was there, and I'm not really a morning jogger, but I just kind of got into the flow. Anyway, while I was there I met this guy. His name is brother Colm O'Connell.

 

Colm O'Connell:

Colm O'Connell. I'm Irish of course. Came to Kenya in 1976.

 

Gregory Warner:

Famous running coach who works with a lot of Kenyan runners. So I met him in an Irish pub in Eldoret, which is, there's only one. When I asked him this question, what is it that makes the Kalenjin so good? This is what he told me.

 

Colm O'Connell:

When you train an athlete to a high level, you need to remember that they live on the edge of injury, they live on the edge of over-training, they live on the edge of pain.

 

Gregory Warner:

Pain

 

Colm O'Connell:

Pain tolerance, yes sir.

 

Gregory Warner:

Now look, to some degree, everybody who's a runner talks about this insidious, protean nature of pain. How it finds all the places. You become breathless, and your lungs have needles. The best runners have to learn to mentally override these distress signals. To run, despite the pain. He actually calls it "expanding your pain barrier."

 

Colm O'Connell:

Yeah, so they are tough

 

Gregory Warner:

But [crosstalk 00:13:46] Colm O'Connell says for the Kalenjin, pain is something else entirely.

 

Colm O'Connell:

You know, your ability to withstand pain. That in a sense, in the Kalenjin tradition made you a man.

 

Gregory Warner:

Quite literally,

 

John Manners:

The central event of their young lives will come up when they are going to be initiated into the tribe.

 

Gregory Warner:

That's John Manners again. Remember, he spent part of his childhood in Kalenjin territory, and he says when he was a boy, say 12 years old, he would notice his friends had scars on their arms and legs.

 

John Manners:

Marks of having burned their arms and legs with hot coals.

 

Gregory Warner:

He soon learned they were practicing for this initiation moment.

 

John Manners:

And you would know you were facing it for ten years at least.

 

Gregory Warner:

Because as a Kalenjin teenager, boy or girl, you have to go through an experience, which is so painful, it's a kind of theatrical orgy of pain, and here's what happens. First you have to crawl naked through stinging nettles, which is like formic acid, you know, and African stinging nettles are much, much stingy-er than the western stinging nettle. Then your fingers are squeezed together, then you get beaten on that bony part of your ankle where it really hurts. But all of that is just warm up, because then, one morning, comes the circumcision.

 

Gregory Warner:

Now, we have some idea of how circumcision works. Maybe. Some of us are circumcised. So you perform it on a baby, and it's one kind of experience. I've gone through that myself, I've seen it done. I've had to hold the legs also of my nephew, it's hard. But the Kalenjin circumcise somewhere right after puberty, so around age 13 to 17. The foreskin is not only cut, but it's tied into a bow. The more than the tie it into a bow thing, I've got to stop there, I kind of froze. I don't really know how to describe it past there.

 

John Manners:

I believe either the top, or the bottom of the foreskin is pierced, and then the head of the penis is pushed through the opening.

 

Gregory Warner:

The thing is, it's not just the cut actually.

 

John Manners:

When he undergoes the operation, he is obliged to be absolutely stoical, still, unflinching.

 

Gregory Warner:

So, in some versions of this ceremony, mud is caked on the face, and then the mud is allowed to dry. If a crack appears in the mud, a cheek may twitch, your forehead may crinkle, and if that happens, a little crack will appear in the mud and all the people around will know to immediately start beating you with large sticks. The worst part though is not just the beating, it's that, after that moment, if you don't make it through this ceremony, you get labeled a Kebitet, a coward. You're a pariah in society, you're not part of society. In the olden days, you didn't have access to the economic opportunities, to afford, what's called the bride price, which is what you need to get a wife. However, if you show yourself to be a true warrior, if you make it through this experience, then hey you get the rights of reproduction. You may even have two or three wives.

 

Gregory Warner:

So Manners wondered, he's just speculating here, but maybe if you have 2000 years of this sexual selection of insuring that the stoical, tough guy types get to have babies. The sensitive types don't. Maybe, it's not just that the Kalenjin are built for speed. It's not just that they have the body type. Maybe they have some sort innate ability mentally to persevere through pain.

 

JAD ABUMRAD:

Huh, and this that a cultural ability, or would he say that all that selection has filtered into their DNA in some way?

 

Gregory Warner:

Well so Manners says isn't sure, and there's certainly no gene for stoicism that's been discovered, and any athletic success has to be ascribed to a host of factors, but, can I play one cut?

 

Speaker 9:

Here, you want me to play the first one?

 

Gregory Warner:

Yeah lets hear it. So I was in Iten, I was thinking about that question, and met this kid named Elly Kipgogei. He's 19 years-old. He's a self-described book worm.

 

Elly Kipgogei:

From the very beginning, I never wanted to go through the traditional form of circumcision, because I knew the ordeal, it was so bad.

 

Gregory Warner:

And actually what he said was "Please circumcise me in the hospital, I want to do the cowardly way," but his relatives said "No, you'd shame the entire family, and if you don't do it,"

 

Elly Kipgogei:

"You're not a full man." That's how they put it.

 

Gregory Warner:

So, he felt like he had to just do it.

 

Elly Kipgogei:

It was so hard, there's beatings, you're supposed to stay for 9 hours inside the cold water. Then, early in the morning, around 7 in the morning, circumcision. They use a sharp stick, I hope you understand that a sharp stick, it's just, bad.

 

Gregory Warner:

He said the whole initiation ritual actually went on for a couple of weeks, it was more than just the cut. And during the whole time he was kept in a hut on the outskirts of the village. His face was powdered white like a ghost, and he was told "whenever you leave this hut,"

 

Elly Kipgogei:

"You are not allowed to walk."

 

Gregory Warner:

You're not allowed to walk.

 

Elly Kipgogei:

So you're supposed to run. Very fast. So you're running very swift, having the pain.

 

Gregory Warner:

And before the circumcision, Elly was never a runner. Afterwards, when was done with initiation, and he was back in high school.

 

Elly Kipgogei:

I said "Oh, let me give it a try," so I could run, and I feel pain, I feel pain, I'm feeling pain, and I wanted to stop, then I realized "no, let me try to persevere. Let me just try. Let me try one more, one more, one more time," and two minutes later I'm at school.

 

Gregory Warner:

Elly joined his track team, started running to school and during his lunch times.

 

Elly Kipgogei:

And after training for two weeks, and three weeks there, I became an expert on all manners[inaudible 00:19:29].

 

Gregory Warner:

After how long?

 

Elly Kipgogei:

After two weeks alone, Three weeks alone.

 

Gregory Warner:

Two weeks?

 

Elly Kipgogei:

That's how it began.

 

Gregory Warner:

That's a crazy story, is that really true?

 

Elly Kipgogei:

Yeah it's true. So probably my ability of running was a bit higher than the rest.

 

Gregory Warner:

Turns out Elly's mom was an accomplished athlete. Okay, so you're saying you had some physical ability to run, but you just didn't really do it before?

 

Elly Kipgogei:

I never realized that I could run.

 

Gregory Warner:

So, we didn't talk at all about women, but Kalenjin girls also go through an initiation right of their own, female genital mutilation.

 

JAD ABUMRAD:

Same type of ritual?

 

Gregory Warner:

Not the same ceremony, but the same type of stoical testing ceremony.

 

John Manners:

And to me this made no sense.

 

Gregory Warner:

This is John Manners again.

 

John Manners:

Obviously the women are not the warriors. They don't need to be brave. Why is it important for them to show courage during this operation. And when I asked this question of my Kalenjin friends many years ago, they were kind of astonished at the question, as though the answer should have been self evident, and the answer they gave me was "a woman who shows cowardice during this operation might bear cowardly sons."

 

ROBERT KRULWICH:

So some Kalenjin might say that Elly actually got two things from his mom. One was his physical prowess, his speed on the track. The other was a mental ability, to persevere through pain.

 

Elly Kipgogei:

Yeah, people usually say it's called a blessing, In Kalenjin, called peruto. Blessing is what you get from probably a forefather, probably a grandmother. So, she blesses you with that activity. That's what they used to say, "the blessing."

 

ROBERT KRULWICH:

That's pretty interesting

 

Gregory Warner:

That's interesting

 

ROBERT KRULWICH:

Although, we're using, inheriting words, or blessing words, what we're really talking about is the pressure of a culture that is simply choosing to deeply, physically reward certain behaviors, and create expectations for those behaviors, and create success around those behaviors. Those are all cultural and not biological things, but they are the equivalent.

 

JAD ABUMRAD:

I think it's both, and I don't know what proportion each contributes to the ultimate result, I have no way of judging.

 

Gregory Warner:

But whatever the mechanism, and whatever it is it will probably stay a mystery. Of all the explanations of for why this one group of people is so good at running, this is the first one that's made me want to run. Once I met Elly, and talked to these runners in Kenya, you know this is an embarrassing story because I don't run very fast, but I got to the gym, and I was on the treadmill, and I was like "I'm taking it up to 7," you know? 7 Miles an hour, like 7.1 actually I went. And you know, that's not like, very fast, but that would usually be my end run. Like at the last five minutes I might do a 7.1, but I did the whole 25 minutes at 7.1, and I thought "Why did I ever think that this was un-doable before, why was I staying at like 6.8."

 

Gregory Warner:

If we're trying to figure out what makes these runners so great, and our first answer is a totally scientifically, factually true, but somehow demoralizing absolute that puts one set of people over there, and the rest of us over here. We all have our body type that we were born with. But then if the second explanation of this Kalenjin advantage maybe just as inaccessible to the rest of us, but still, it feels like a more egalitarian version of advantage. Even if we're talking about a very specific culture.

 

JAD ABUMRAD:

Yeah, I think if you run with this extreme pain for a month, after having been circumcised, and somehow that gave you a certain, culturally troubling, but also real relationship to pain, well that feels like a fair advantage to me. Not that I would wish it on anyone.

 

Gregory Warner:

Actually, even Elly does not wish it on his kids, when he has kids.

 

Elly Kipgogei:

The system is changing from the traditional format to the new format right now.

 

Gregory Warner:

I mean he's part of a new generation of Kalenjin. He says for his contemporaries, the pain-free hospital circumcision is becoming slowly less of a stigma.

 

Elly Kipgogei:

And, I can't imagine my son going through the same procedure as their father. So my son, or my sons won't go through the same procedure as I did.

 

Gregory Warner:

But, don't you want you son to have the benefits of what you,

 

Elly Kipgogei:

The benefit is only about the perseverance part of it, and I believe perseverance can get through many ways.

 

Gregory Warner:

He tells himself he's going to be able to pass on those Kalenjin values without resorting to the ancient rituals.

 

Elly Kipgogei:

I will teach him how to persevere.

 

Gregory Warner:

And he thinks his kids will still be able to be champion runners, if that's what they want to be.

 

ROBERT KRULWICH:

Our thanks to Gregory Warner, NPR's East Africa correspondent.

 

JAD ABUMRAD:

Also, we should say thanks to Phia Bennen for production help on this piece. Thank you Phia, and thank you guys for listening. I'm Jad

 

ROBERT KRULWICH:

I'm Robert

 

JAD ABUMRAD:

We'll see you next time.

 

Richie:

That's my kitty cat Max, and this is Richie. Radiolab is supported in part by the National Science Foundation, and by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Enhancing public understanding of science and technology in the modern world. More information about Sloan at www.sloan.org

 

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