INA – Packed away in Brent McLain’s backpack to Beijing, Boaz Lalang’s Rend Lake College family was with him at the Summer Olympics when he sailed through the 800 meter track and field prelims. They shared his pain when he came short of making the finals by only two-hundreths of a second. They were there because McLain was there. And they were there on Wednesday to welcome their hero home.
Hundreds attended the homecoming celebration at the RLC Sports Center yesterday to celebrate the return of a 19-year-old athlete who is more-than-arguably the greatest in the college’s history.
“I’m glad to be back home,” Lalang told the audience. He calls RLC home, but he is from Eldoret, Kenya and competed for his native country at the Games in Beijing. His love for the small college in Southern Illinois – one which he turned down money and a professional contract to return to – embodies how the local community invited him in with open arms long before he was its first Olympian.
“I want to thank Rend Lake College for allowing me to fulfill my dreams,” he said.
To thank him for fulfilling the college’s dream of being represented on the athletic world stage, the RLC Foundation Board of Directors, along with Chief Executive Officer Pat Kern, presented Lalang with a commemorative plaque and Trustee Chairman Bill Simpson, on behalf of the RLC Board of Trustees, unveiled two signs at the homecoming. The signs will be placed at the college’s two main entrances. They read “Welcome to Rend Lake College. Home of Boaz Lalang. 2008 Beijing Olympian. 800m Men Track Event.”
The College and its Foundation sent Lalang’s coach, McLain, to Beijing to represent the local support and excitement for their athlete. Lalang said he shed “many tears of joy” when reading the numerous messages of support on The McLain Report: From China to Ina, a daily blog where McLain and his wife, Deedra, chronicled their Olympic journey.
McLain explained that getting to see Lalang at the games was not easy. The first of few times they were able to see each other was through a chain link fence as Chinese armed guards watched in the background at the Bird’s Nest, China’s National Stadium. He said a tear came to Lalang’s eye.
“They didn’t send me to Beijing to site see,” McLain said. “They sent me for that one moment ... when Boaz knew that his Rend Lake College family was with him.”
Lalang thanked the College and Foundation for sending McLain “all the way to China” to support him. He thanked everyone at his homecoming for sharing his special moment. If it were not for donations by friends, fellow students, faculty and staff at RLC – a campaign spearheaded by RLC administrators, Kern and instructor Barb Hampton – Lalang’s Olympic dream would have been overshadowed by the price of a plane ticket – one which, coincidentally, was about the same as the average annual earnings of an entire Kenyan family. Even one of his competitors, Irish runner Thomas Chamney, jumped on the bandwagon and gave a gift to get Lalang to the Kenyan Olympic Trials. Chamney made it to the Olympics, but did not make it beyond the 800m prelims.
“It’s because of you that we are all here on this special day,” Lalang said. “I thank you all, my Rend Lake College family.”