David Rudisha, 800m world record-holder and 2012 Olympic gold medallist, was in DCU recently to witness the presentation of an honorary doctorate to his coach, Brother Colm O’Connell.
Known as “the godfather of Kenyan running”, O’Connell said it was “a very humbling experience for me to stand here today to receive such an honour”. He joked that when he attends events with Rudisha “usually he’s ahead…this time I’ve got one up on him”.
President of DCU, Professor Brian MacCraith, spoke at the ceremony and said the award was given to “recognise outstanding achievements in a certain field”. He thanked O’Connell for “graciously accepting the award”.
MacCraith extended a particular welcome to Rudisha as well as O’Connell’s family and friends. He said that Rudisha’s presence at the ceremony “conveys a multitude of respect and gratitude”.
MacCraith said O’Connell was a wonderful ambassador for Ireland and finished with a Swahili proverb “every bird flies with their own wings”.
O’Connell moved to Iten in western Kenya in 1976 to teach geography in St Patrick’s High School with the Patrician missionary order, who he calls his “second family”. He got involved in athletics as a way to get to know students better and became the world’s most successful coach of endurance training.
He said that though the facilities in the school are poor, he doesn’t blame this for any problems because if you do that you won’t get anything done.
O’Connell’s camps have become known for training world-class athletes; 60% of the athletes who attended have gone professional. They have produced five Olympic Gold medallists and 25 world champions.
His philosophy is “all about the person; it’s about personal development and forming positive attitudes” and viewing his protégés not as winners or losers but people. As he said: “you cannot put in what God left out.” He too, finished his speech with a few words of Swahili.
The award is the highest honour the university bestows. Previous recipients of the honorary doctorate are Seamus Heaney and former presidents, Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese.
The Ambassador of the Republic of Kenya, Catherine Muigai Mwangi, was present at the ceremony. Also in attendance were students from local primary schools and the President of the Students’ Union, Paul Doherty and Education Officer, Aaron Clougher. The ceremony was held in The Helix.