By Tony Blasi, Sports Editor
AUBURN — It took a long time for Kenyan long-distance runner Moninda Marube to trust people and feel safe in America.
Dan Campbell — a kindhearted coach who can’t say no to good people needing a helping hand — threw Marube a lifeline and unbreakable bond of friendship and respect developed between the two men.
But for the moment, the duo is in limbo as they work feverishly to obtain a U visa for Marube.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, “a U visa is an immigration benefit that can be sought by victims of certain crimes who are currently assisting or have previously assisted law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of a crime, or who are likely to be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity. The U visa provides eligible victims with non-immigrant status in order to temporarily remain in the United States (U.S.) while assisting law enforcement.”
Marube believes he had been the victim of human trafficking and desperately sought help to escape it in 2010. He bounced around the country until he was introduced to Campbell — the University of Maine at Farmington men’s and women’s cross country and track and field coach.
When Campbell heard about Marube’s plight, Campbell did what he has always done for any fellow human being in a quandary. The coach extended a helping hand to the Kenyan runner. Campbell’s reputation for his generosity and reaching out to people as a teacher and coach drew Marube, 38, to the former Edward Little track coach.
(Tony Blasi/Franklin Journal)
‘What he didn’t tell you is he lived in the basement for a year and half and wouldn’t come out,” Campbell said. “He was afraid of being nabbed even though he felt safe. He was looking to get married. He was doing everything he could to feel safe.
“Once he felt safe, and with the help of (Auburn Police chief) Phil Crowell Jr. and other people and testifying with Homeland Security, testifying with the FBI, basically, he doesn’t have immunity, but he is not going to be deported, but that might change because of the political climate we have now.
“The good news is Portland is refugee free and we have been told that. They told us not to worry. Phil Crowell is a big advocate and he is a major part of African peace. He is on the committee for the New England board.”
When asked about Marube’s status, the offices of Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins stated that they would not discuss the Kenyan’s case, citing privacy issues.
A helping hand
For now, Marube, who flashes a wide, friendly smile, keeps busy taking college classes and serving along side Campbell as a volunteer coach for the UMF track teams.
But when he tells his story of not being paid as a professional runner, Marube’s reassuring grin fades away.
He has competed in numerous races across the globe, but his last stop was the United States. He said he was not receiving prize money and believes he was being taken advantage by a manager.
“But now when I got to the U.S., things changed around,” Marube said. “It did not materialize as I thought.
“So I ended up in a ring of human trafficking. It happened in Minnesota and I did a number of races, so many races 75 percent of which I won…but the gist of the thing is I was taken advantage of and I never got to see any amount of money that I was working for.
“People would read me in the newspaper and they would see me on TV, They would be wondering: ‘Our son is making a lot of money in the U.S. He is not speaking a word with us. He is making good for himself and he has forgotten us.’ Unfortunately, that was not the case.”
But in 2011, Marube traveled to California to compete in a race and eventually hooked up with Campbell, who was the Santa Barbara Marathon’s technical director. A year later, he came to Auburn where Campbell helped Marube earn a GED and and enroll in college classes at Central Maine Technical College and UMF.
“It was a long story before I met him,” Marube recalled. I didn’t seek any asylum of any sort. My visa expired.
“I was in situation now I was becoming an illegal immigrant, I wasn’t looking for any kind of asylum at that particular point. It was a difficult situation because my visa expired.”
Marube didn’t understand the process of having work visa reinstated.
“I did not have anyone in the U.S. to guide me, to direct me and all that,” he said. “Now, here I am, coming from Africa, have borrowed money heavily even for my ticket, my visa, and I have come to this country to do a race, of which I knew I was in good shape and could make money, so I could at least pay back the tickets.
“Now, I am in a situation where my visa had expired, and I haven’t seen a single dollar and I have done a number of races. My name has appeared in the newspapers a number of times, on the TV a number of times, winning many races from Kansas City down to Hawaii, and I don’t have anything to show for it.”
Returning the favor
Despite his plight, Marube has been giving back to the community as a volunteer coach and cooking for UMF students in spare time.
‘It is a great community up there. They are open-minded,” Marube said. “It is like a small family up there.
“I love the students. It is a family. I get to talk to them on a personal level, but I jump in and do the workouts with them. We feel like we are so close to each other more than standing up there and giving them instructions.”
Along the way, others have reached out to Marube, who appreciates their generosity and aid.
“But he gives back,” Campbell said. “Every Friday, for the longest time, all the Kenyans, the Somalis, the Congos — it didn’t matter where they came from Africa — he would meet with them Friday nights and he would cook for them and they would go to the movies together or just sit and chat (at UMF). He’s the one who pulls it together.”
Marube’s cooking exploits attracted a crowd of students who looked forward to sampling the Kenyan’s sumptuous meals.
“I do not have a preference like this is an African, this is a white,” Marube said. “Students would ask, “When are you cooking dinner?’ I so much like that kind of camaraderie and I cannot remember a day that I cooked my meal comfortably, put it in a bowl, went to my room and have it by myself.
“Anytime I am cooking, they are passing by and say, ‘Hey — they call me grandpa — what are you cooking today?’ We sit down and whoever comes, then we eat.”
A friendship grows
You don’t have to tell Marube that he was fortunate to be introduced to Campbell.
“First and foremost, I have to say he is a dad I never had,” Merube said. “He is the only guy I have ever shared with…He holds a very big part of my life and in my heart, too. Together, we share it.
“If anything happens to me, if I died here, if anything happens, they are the people who know me in and out.
“I remember this one case actually. We went to the track, and this is what I am talking about, we went to the track and this one student, who did not have a pair of shoes. They were running on the tar…the kid was in pain and all that. Campbell took off his shoes (which were signed by Lance Armstrong), drove home barefoot and did not want the shoes back — and that kid had shoes.”
Marube said Campbell has been a positive influence in his life.
“I have learned to be able to be more receptive to people,” Marube said. “I have learned to be more helping to people. I have learned to listen and learned to deal with the life I love.”
Campbell enjoys having Marube around as a sidekick who inspires UMF athletes.
“He probably elevates my status a lot higher than it might have been. He is like a magnet,” Campbell said. “They are just drawn to him. He could tell anyone to run backwards and do all their strides sideways and they would listen because they believe in whatever he says because of the way he presents it and how he conducts himself.”
But Campbell and Marube are watching the clock as they wait for the Kenyan’s U visa to be approved. Campbell said it will take another year and half for the U visa to arrive. The pair has also set their sights on a work permit, but the permit may be more difficult to obtain.
“The push here is to work,” Campbell said. “He does not mind paying his way.”
When Campbell looks back at the whole affair, he insists there was a reason why he left a good job at Edward Little High School to become logistic coordinator for a veterans marathon, which Marube won.
When Marube demanded to be paid in cash for his victory, Campbell and his daughter, Jan Boyce, figured out Marube’s dilemma.
“I was personally pulled to go to California. I didn’t want to go to California,” Campbell said. “I didn’t have any desire to be there except to help this one person.
“I hated it there and then (Marube) falls in my lap and then I knew why I was there. It was very clear.”
And Campbell continues to go the distance for the Kenyan runner.