Badass of the Month: Wilson Cheum
“I grew up in kind of a jungle,” says Wilson Cheum, May’s Badass of the Month. Twenty-one years ago, he moved to America from Kenya, “where marathon runners come from,” according to him. His father was ranked 3rd in the country for track and field. “I still run 3 to 4 miles every other day, just to get fit, not to compete with the young ones.”
He says “young ones,” because he’s 65. “I feel badass when I run here,” he said about the flat land of Texas compared to the high terrain of Kenya. “I can run faster because there’s more oxygen.”
He and his wife – “She’s the hottest girl in the world” – immigrated for greater opportunities for their two then-young sons, but it wasn’t easy. They would have legal status as long as she was enrolled in nursing school, but to pay for classes, he would work 3 jobs – a shift at 7-11, another cutting grass, then flipping burgers or delivering pizza – while she would work on top of classes, all while they raised their boys. It took 7 years for her to finish that way. Then, finally after all of that, with a job, her employer gave them papers and the family could stay.
But, that was hardly the end of their troubles.
“One son is a pharmacist, one is a rascal, I would say.” One of his sons struggled with substance problems. “Keeping the family together in that time was tough, but I have never given up.” For more than ten years, they would rebuild and start over, lose it all, and start over again. Once, Wilson kicked his son out, and he was homeless for 2 months. Another time, they sent him to a rehab center in San Antonio, but he left and walked on foot all the way back to Austin. “Then, we knew it was actually a mental issue,” a realization that would eventually lead to a turning point.
Two days ago, that son went back to school. “He turned his life around 6 months ago. I’m proud. He had to struggle with his demons and go through more to overcome and find success. He has fought so hard. He is schizophrenic; he hears voices. To do what he’s done, that’s like fighting a lion barehanded in the Serengeti. That’s a real warrior.”
A warrior is exactly how Lions sees Wilson. “He trains hard,” said one of our instructors. “He smiles and keeps training when I might throw up my hands in frustration.”
How does he keep going when other people in class might give up? “Don’t expect to learn everything in one week,” he said.
“Be patient. It’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon.”