As a child, Tegla Loroupe ran barefoot to and from school, a 6-mile jaunt from her home in Kenya.
From those humble beginnings, she evolved into the world's best women's distance runner in the mid- to late-1990s. She won the New York City Marathon in 1994 and 1995, and she held the marathon world record for 31/2 years while winning a host of other major races around the globe.
At 33, Loroupe still has plenty of miles left in her spindly 5-foot, 88-pound frame. And she'll add 52.4 miles to her resume by running two marathons in less than one month -- returning to New York on Nov. 4, then becoming the most accomplished runner to compete in the Las Vegas Marathon on Dec. 2.
"That was an unexpected blessing," Las Vegas Marathon president Bill Burke said Tuesday. "She's the biggest runner to ever come to Las Vegas, period. No question about it."
Running two marathons so close together is unusual. Most elite marathoners run two, perhaps three, per year.
"It's like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro with a child on your back," Loroupe, currently training in Germany, said of running two marathons in such a short time span.
But Loroupe has good reason to take on such a challenge. She's immersed in her Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation, and she's using the New York and Las Vegas races to bring more attention -- and funds -- to the orphanage and school her foundation oversees in her native land.
She opened the orphanage and school for displaced Kenyans, but she now wants to help children in other war-torn parts of Africa, most notably in the western Sudan region of Darfur, where she recently visited.
"Some of the kids, they knew I was visiting," said Loroupe, who also is a United Nations Ambassador of Sport. "They came to me and said they'd like to come to study in my school. They have nothing. But they said they'd like to study.
"One said he wanted to be a doctor, one a lawyer. Then they want to return to Darfur to help their people."
The exposure in New York, with her history there, could certainly aid her cause. But running the Las Vegas Marathon was a bit of a surprise.
"I was running a race in England, and a group of friends said it was a nice, well-organized race," said Loroupe, who acknowledged that her goal in Las Vegas is simply to raise awareness, not necessarily compete at her usual elite level. "I'm just going to run. ... It's always great meeting new people."
Even with Loroupe bringing that mind-set to Las Vegas, Burke said he won't be surprised to see Loroupe leading the pack. Her presence bolsters an event in its third year since restructuring and getting the Strip as part of its course.
"Everywhere I go, everyone I talk to in racing circles, Las Vegas is on their list," Burke said. "They think it's growing, its stature is going to grow, and it's destined to be a big race. ... I just hope it lives up to its destiny, and I think Tegla competing here is another steppingstone."
Contact reporter Patrick Everson at email@example.com or (702) 383-0353.