VIDEO:COUNTRY SINGER COMPOSE A SONG ABOUT PAUL CHELIMO-Chelimo Ran to Rio’
“John Henry” was a steel-drivin’ man.
Paul Chelimo is a steel-spikes-drivin’ man.
And now, like “John Henry,” the Olympic silver medalist in track and field’s 5,000 meters and former UNC-Greensboro running star has been immortalized in a ballad.
Daniel Ayers, whose farming family lives in Graham and befriended Chelimo and other area Kenyan college students, has brought Chelimo’s story to song in “Chelimo Ran to Rio.” Ayers performed it for the first time Saturday night at the Bowman Barn Bash near High Point, and his manager, Clint Bowman, posted the video on YouTube.
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“It’s telling an epic story,” Ayers says. “It may not be about a warrior or a statesman or some mythical national hero in the traditional sense, but it’s still a story about a national hero.
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Paul Chelimo, the first Olympian to graduate from UNC-Greensboro, will compete for the U.S. Olympic track and field team on Wednesday at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
“Paul’s story really is the American dream. Someone who came to the country and through perseverance and community-building and hard work accomplished great things. I consider the story kind of an epic ballad even though it doesn’t involve conflict or competition in the sense of war. It’s conflict and competition on the track.”
The song’s subject, of course, likes it.
“It’s really great,” Chelimo says, “and it just tells me there’s really nice people out there and these people care.”
The song doesn’t take many liberties. Ayers’ line about “living with a Kenyan convict” quickly gives his tune flavor. It’s a reference to a well-liked former Guilford and A&T student, Kevin Muhanji,who lost his student visa in 2011 and spent time in jail.
Ayers’ folk stylings also shine through with lines such as “He put the pedal to the metal for a medal” and “When NBC said on live TV that his runnin’ was against the law,” a reference to the disqualification that was later overturned. “Look out Mo, there’s a Mustang, wearin’ Paul Chelimo’s shoes” is a heads-up to the race winner, the legendary Mo Farah, using a nickname Chelimo adopted.
“I run fast, like the horse, mustang,” Chelimo says. “Horse power.”
Chelimo embraces, too, that Ayers sings of him as “the native son from Greensboro.” Though Chelimo grew up in Iten, Kenya, and now lives in Beaverton, Ore., he considers Greensboro his home turf in the United States.
“Actually, that’s the place I’ve lived (the longest) in the United States,” Chelimo says. “I wouldn’t come from Kenya and just say I’m a native from Kenya. I have to relate to something in the United States. The only city I can relate to is North Carolina, UNC-Greensboro, that’s where I grew up and that’s why I knew people. It’s been great, it’s been amazing, and I’m just happy about it.”
Ayers also drew inspiration from “Big Foot in the Door (click here to listen),” a song Greensboro’s Bruce Piephoff wrote and performed about baseball player Tom Alston, a native of our city who in 1954 became the first African-American to play for the St. Louis Cardinals. Alston, who died in 1993 at age 67, is buried beside New Goshen United Methodist Church on Randleman Road.
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“Bruce’s song is a great biography of Alston, but it’s also got a catchy hook and it’s got some political undertones because Alston is fighting against segregation,” Ayers says. “You’ve got Tom Alston from Greensboro going to the national stage and Paul Chelimo from Greensboro going to an international stage. Both athletes carried with them the support and identity of their native communities.”
Chelimo, a water treatment specialist in the U.S. Army and a member of its World Class Athlete Program, says he expects to return to Greensboro Nov. 10-13 to be honored by his alma mater. Details haven’t been announced, but Chelimo plans to bring his silver medal to show off for his home folks.
“Definitely I should bring it with me,” he says. “They have to see.”