MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- The alarm screams 4:30 a.m., cueing the start of a humid eight-mile run. Afterwards, it's a mad dash to get ready for the work day. Then, back home to a rewarding warm-up mile alongside the kids prior to another heart-pounding eight-mile run. Finally, rest like a champion and repeat.
This is life for the Air Force's fastest runner.
Last weekend, Airman 1st Class Daniel Kirwa, an aerospace medical technician assigned to the 6th Medical Operations Squadron, placed first in the Air Force Half Marathon with a time of 1:12:05.
“I ran every single day for the last three months without taking a day off,” Kirwa explained. “When the race started, I just took off and no one followed me.”
This win was nearly 30 years in the making, as Kirwa found his love for the sport during his childhood commutes to school while growing up in Burnt Forest, Kenya.
“In the beginning, we used to walk,” he recalled. “By the time we were in fourth grade, we were running.”
Day in and day out, Kirwa and his fellow classmates ran three miles to school and another three back home.
“As time went by, we wanted to see who was the fastest, which started a competition,” Kirwa added. “By the time I was in seventh grade, I was really good.”
Eventually, Kirwa joined his school’s track team on top of his running commute. He ran nearly 12 miles per day.
“Fast forward to high school, one of my friends said ‘Dan, you know there are opportunities in America. You can study and run at the same time,’” Kirwa recollected. “That’s how I knew there were scholarships to come to the U.S.”
Once he learned of the opportunities across the world, Kirwa dedicated himself to accomplish the dream -- one he would run his heart out to achieve -- in hopes of better living conditions and a better future.
“I would go 17 miles to go to a cyber café because we didn’t have computers at school in Kenya,” Kirwa said. “Sometimes I ran, sometimes I took public transportation.”
After browsing the internet for a coach then training endlessly to secure fast enough qualifying times, Kirwa earned a full scholarship to Harding University in Arkansas. There, he won four Division II National Championship titles in various track and cross country events, received All-American honors 15 times and graduated with his bachelor's degree in political science.
“I started running professionally after that, but I wanted to represent the U.S. in races,” Kirwa said. “I was always interested in the Air Force so I wanted to run for the Air Force while working at the same time.”
Following his enlistment and setting the basic military training record for the 1.5 mile run with a time of 7:20, Kirwa started working at MacDill, where he continues to train for another childhood goal.
“I’m trying to qualify for the Olympic trials,” Kirwa said. “You have to run below a 2:19:00 marathon, but my target is to run under 2:15:00.”
This is a goal his leadership supported from the beginning.
“He inspires us all because he’s a really hard worker and highly motivated,” said Staff Sgt. Matthew Siegel, a medical technician assigned to the 6th Medical Operations Squadron. “It’s definitely a balancing act, but we communicate a lot and make sure he gets the support he needs.”
The young school boy from Kenya who conquered life's challenges with his own two feet and one big dream, now has a wife and two daughters who all enjoy running as much as he does.
“They give me meaning,” Kirwa said. “Every morning I wake up with my family, then I go to work and I have an Air Force family. I have everything I need.”
Kirwa is currently practicing to run an Olympic qualifying marathon in Berlin next year, where he hopes his dedicated training leads to a qualifying time.