TAMPA — Aliphine Tuliamuk has an enviable social conscience that extends well beyond road races.
That benevolence was on display in Sunday’s Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic.
After winning the women’s half-marathon in one hour, 12.29 minutes — nearly two minutes ahead of her closest female competitor — Tuliamuk had a medal placed around her neck.
It did not stay there for long.
Tuliamuk, 29, handed the hardware to a young girl as an inspirational keepsake.
“It’s all about giving back,” Tuliamuk said.
The Kenyan native was on the receiving end of such kindness 18 years ago. She qualified for her first competitive 10,000-meter race but did not have any shoes.
Tegla Loroupe, the first African to win the New York City Marathon, took care of the problem by handing Tuliamuk a new pair of running sneakers.
The footwear allowed Tuliamuk, who has 32 siblings, to become a distance running specialist. She became so good that she was offered a scholarship to Iowa State. College offered a way out from the difficulties Tuliamuk faced in her village in western Kenya, a place with no roads and few vehicles.
After attending Iowa State for two years (2010-11), Tuliamuk transferred to Wichita State. She was a nine-time All-American in cross country and track and field. Tuliamuk also got her bachelor’s degree in public health, becoming the first from her village to graduate from college.
The ultimate goal for Tuliamuk is to be a nurse to help out back home. She has put that profession on hold to pursue her career as a distance runner.
In 2016, Tuliamuk won three national titles. That same year, she became an American citizen. Currently, Tuliamuk trains in Flagstaff, Ariz., with the same elite team as the men’s half-marathon winner, Scott Fauble.
The last time Tuliamuk visited Kenya was two years ago. She plans to go back sometime this year with her boyfriend, Tim Gannon, a physician’s assistant in New Mexico.
“There is so much that is needed in my community,” Tuliamuk said. “If the opportunity presents itself, I will help out when I go back. If not, I’ll just put my boyfriend to work.”
Tuliamuk has still made a difference in Kenya by giving away all sorts of shoes and running gear.
And it has continued stateside with medals.
Tuliamuk, who participated in the Gasparilla Distance Classic for the first time, was coming back from hamstring and Achilles injuries that sidelined her six months.
Her layoff hardly showed Sunday when she dominated the women’s race.
At the sound of the horn, Tuliamuk broke for the lead with only a handful of females beside her. They did not have her company for long.
By the time Tuliamuk passed the halfway mark, she was well ahead of the field.
Her time was so good that she was seventh among the men.
“I started slow and was running with the women, but then I sprinted up and caught up with the men,” Tuliamuk said. “It was a good thing because if I stayed back I wouldn’t have been able to do what I did.”
The Distance Classic served as a tuneup for Tuliamuk’s next race, the 39th NN Marathon Rotterdam in April.
Contact Bob Putnam at [email protected]. Follow @BobbyHomeTeam.