My name is Kenyi Santino and I’m 23 years old. I was born in Terekeka, South Sudan to Mundari parents who are cattle herders by trade. I am their only son of nine kids!
In 2006, one of my uncles, who fought as a freedom fighter, encouraged me to attend primary school in Yei, South Sudan because the quality of education there was the best in the country. Unfortunately, not long after relocating to Yei, my uncle was killed in the war-infested region of Malakal, South Sudan.
My uncle’s encouragement is what drove me to work hard as a young kid digging ditches, building bridges, and farming so that I could pay my way through school and perhaps become a priest one day. After completing primary school, I started attending Nehemiah Secondary School in 2012.
That same year, a mini-marathon was put on for Yei Secondary Schools. The prize included scholarship privilege for schooling. With a prize like that I decided to participate and ended up placing 3rd and subsequently 1st place in 2013 and 2014. Not only was my schooling paid for those years, but the marathon organizer, Pastor Onochie “Uche” Izuora, became my mentor.
In order to compete on a larger stage, I had to return to Juba for further training, leaving me one year shy of completing my secondary education. Although war was going on in Juba during this time, I continued training even in the middle of gunfire. Thankfully by God’s grace those bullets did not stop me from qualifying for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
In 2016, four teammates and I made history by becoming South Sudan’s first Olympic team. I competed in the 1500 meter race. While I did not place on the podium, I realized what my teammates and I accomplished that year was more important. For the first time, on the world stage, South Sudan had a team competing in the Olympic games. And at home, regardless of tribe, we were being celebrated for representing the skill of South Sudanese athletes, a source of great national pride and one example of what our nation can offer the world.
While I’m not a priest, God has used my gift of running as a way to minister to others. It has allowed me to pay for my own schooling and that of my two sisters. I’ve also been able to travel, train, and share my story in venues across the globe as I seek to qualify for South Sudan’s 2020 Olympic team. Thankfully I was also able to complete my Secondary Schooling this past year. While I’m not sure exactly what my future holds, I do know that the Lord is using my running to inspire others and bring hope to the youth in my country – a cause near to my heart.