PLAINVIEW—Running always has been a way of life for Edward Taragon, since his earliest days in Kenya. Taragon knew if he were fast enough, he could run for an American college, earn a degree and make possible a better life for his family, who make their living growing potatoes and maize.
But circumstances last year nearly sidelined Taragon from running track, at least at the collegiate level. But with help from a Plainview couple and their church, he’s been able to take it all in stride—literally.
It’s been a few years since Edward first set foot on United States soil, coming first to California to run track for a college there. During a routine physical there, doctors found a hole in Taragon’s heart, but no one instructed him to quit running.
“I thought I was 100 percent healthy,” Taragon said. “I ran regularly and usually felt fine.”
After a semester, though, the coach sent Taragon to Texas to run for Coach Brian Whitlock at Wayland Baptist University in January 2009. He’d begun training for the indoor track season, which was soon to begin when Wayland sent him for a physical. The news wasn’t good.
Doctors confirmed he did, indeed, have a hole in his heart, and if he continued to train at the same level, it might cause permanent damage.
For Taragon’s safety, Whitlock could not let him run and risk further heart damage or even death. And since his education was tied to his track scholarship, he had to find a way to pay the difference if he wanted to stay on at the university. The news was devastating to Taragon.
That’s when Wayland and Debbie Richardson stepped in.
“He called us just crying, saying they were going to send him home,” said Debbie. “So we came to get him and find out what happened.”
The Richardsons had known Edward only a few months. They met him when he began attending Colonial Baptist Church in Plainview with track teammate Bradley Sell and ended up in their college Sunday school class. Drawn to Taragon’s faithfulness and sweet spirit, the Richardsons bonded instantly with him, and he soon became part of their extended family.
“Everything is just so new to him. It has humbled us and our whole family,” Wayland Richardson said, noting his grown children and grandchildren even welcomed Taragon as an adopted brother of sorts. “We believe God brought him here to us because of the route he came to get here. Our mission field came to us.”
Taragon and a few other Kenyan runners who came to Wayland became regular guests at the Richardson home and even accompanied them on short out-of-town trips. They enjoyed providing him with new experiences. Debbie Richardson cooked regularly for the students, and she let the young men cook traditional Kenyan meals for their family, involving them in holidays and family reunions.
When she received that tearful phone call from Taragon about the heart defect and the lost of a scholarship, she sprung into action. The family spoke to their church and raised the money to keep him in school for the semester, and they set out to discover what could be done for him medically.
They learned surgery was an option, and doctors said repairs typically were very successful. But as an international student, Taragon had no insurance to cover the expensive procedures. The hospital agreed to do the surgery if he could at least come up with the down payment; then payments could be made until the balance was paid.
When he called home to let his parents know of the situation, Taragon said they were befuddled by the $26,000 price tag on the surgery.
“They didn’t know what to do about it,” he said. “But their second reaction was to give everything to God, because they couldn’t do anything about it. They were so thankful about how people have treated me here, and they know I’m safe.”
Meanwhile, his “American parents” were putting feet to their own faith on his behalf.
“We sent e-mails asking for prayer, and we knew God would provide,” Debbie Richardson said. “We put some money in of our own, then challenged the church and the community to match the money for Edward’s surgery. We shared his story with everyone we knew, and a lot of people gave.”
Colonial Baptist Church rallied to his cause. Even the Richardsons’ grandchildren opted to save their allowances for four months and donated to Taragon’s medical fund. Soon, the down payment was raised and the two-hour, arthroscopic surgery was scheduled. A pre-op session with the pediatric cardiologist found the situation even more miraculous. “The cardiologist said it was a common pediatric problem but was usually repaired while a child was a few months old,” Debbie recalled. “He said Edward shouldn’t be alive, and he sure shouldn’t be running cross-country and breaking records.”
The Richardsons documented much of the visit, the surgery and recovery to send home to Taragon’s family, and they kept an unbroken prayer chain going for the months leading up to and after the procedure.
Taragon admits he had plenty of anxiety himself. He worried that the surgery would have to be done open-heart, which might end his running career permanently and, by extension, his chance at an American education. He’d already settled on a major in mathematics with plans to pursue a career in structural engineering he can use to improve his home country. But peace soon prevailed.
“Prayer really helped me. At home, my source was God, and I came all the way here, so I knew he’d help me,” Taragon said. “The church helped give me the courage also by telling me everything was going to be OK.”
The Richardsons delivered Edward to the hospital in Lubbock for the procedure. If all went well, the doctor said he’d be out of surgery in two hours. Ninety minutes later, the doctor emerged with good news.
“He said it could not have gone more perfectly,” Debbie Richardson said.
Taragon’s family—his parents in Kenya, and his adopted family in Plainview and his church family—were elated at the success of the procedure and the prognosis of the doctor that with some recovery time, he would likely be running again.
Getting back to full speed would take a while for him, though, even with his otherwise healthy state. For the first few months, he had to take it easy. Then in November, the doctor cleared Taragon to begin jogging no more than 20 minutes at a time. The Richardsons bought him a bicycle to get some exercise without the great exertion of running and work his way back to full strength.
In December, the doctor released him to run competitively again, noting that his EKGs were normal and by all accounts, the surgery had been successful. Taragon immediately began training, hoping to secure a spot back on the Wayland track team and prove to the coaches he truly was an asset.
In his first race, Jan. 23 at Texas Tech, he placed first in the 5,000-meter run with a time of 15:14.72, qualifying him for the national meet. Then on Feb. 6 at the next meet, he placed second, beating his own time by four seconds. He placed No. 17 at the nationals preliminary race for the 5000-meter.
With more time to train, Taragon qualified for the outdoor nationals meet as well, in the 5,000-meter run as well as the 10,000 and the 3,000. He planned to stay with the 5,000-meter race for the outdoor meet, which began May 27 and wrapped up just three days before his 25th birthday.
However, Taragon ran the 3,000-meter steeplechase event—one he never ran before the conference championships a month ago—and won the preliminary heat, advancing to the finals.
While Taragon was getting back to normal on his running schedule and training for the Wayland track team, the Richardsons continued faithfully making payments to the hospital for his surgical procedure. Then one day, Taragon arrived at their house with an odd letter from a collection agency, and the couple set out to investigate the situation.
“I called … to check on the account, and they could not find the records right off, so she said she’d have to look into it,” Debbie Richardson recalled. “I called back the next day and the lady had dug everything up and said that someone had paid the entire hospital bill, about $20,000. I just burst out crying.”
The hospital couldn’t tell them who the anonymous benefactor had been, but save for the anesthesiologist bill, the majority of the surgery has been paid. Debbie said she kept the news to herself for a few days but finally couldn’t stand it.
“We told … (Taragon) at church, and he couldn’t believe it,” Wayland Richardson said.
Taragon offered thanks to God for friends whose names he knew and those who remained unknown to him.
“I just couldn’t believe the love of people, especially for someone like me that didn’t know anyone here,” he said.
Colonial Baptist Church and the Plainview community helped with Taragon’s tuition. He hopes to qualify for a new track scholarship at Wayland, finish his education and return to Kenya to make a difference for others, paying forward the kindness he’s found here in America.
While Taragon definitely has been blessed by his association with Colonial Baptist Church, the Richardsons and his Wayland experience, the couple will be the first to say they’re the ones most enriched.
“We just love the young man. He makes my heart happy and my eyes water,” Wayland Richardson said. “It’s just too much God. He’s orchestrated all this.”
Debbie Richardson, whom Taragon calls “Mum,” concurs.
“I truly know without a doubt that he was placed here for us to help. In the process, he has blessed us so much,” she said. “Our lives will never be the same again, that’s for sure.”