National honours for Mallow’s ‘Godfather of Running’

Br. Colm O’Connell.

A Patrician Brother from Mallow who is known as ‘the Godfather of Kenyan running’ has been named as one of 11 recipients of this year’s Presidential Distinguished Service Award, which honours members of the Irish diaspora who have ‘rendered distinguished service to the nation and/or its reputation abroad’.
Br. Colm O’Connell from Annakissa, a few miles outside Mallow, said it was a tremendous honour to receive an award from the Irish government for 40 years of work coaching athletes in Kenya, many of whom have gone on to win Olympic honours, including Peter Rono, David Rudisha, Matthew Birir, Brimin Kipruto and Sally Kiplagat.
Br. Colm’s association with Kenya began in 1976 when he joined the staff of St Patrick’s High School in Iten, and when the athletics coach retired he took over the job, with spectacular success.
Now in his 70s, Br. Colm has returned regularly to his birthplace for holidays, and in 2012 he was joined on his trip by Olympic 800m gold medallist David Rudisha, who he brought to local schools to speak to students, and both were also guests of honour at a reception in Mallow Council Chamber where civic honours were bestowed on Br. Colm.
Br. Colm received a coaching achievement award from World Athletics in 2019 and also has a street named after him in Iten. Speaking recently to BBC Africa about the Presidential Distinguished Service Award, he said it was “a tremendous honour and very, very special.”