>Marathoner on a mission

> Bora Chheang will run to raise scholarship funds for other Cambodian orphans

By Kieran Nicholson The Denver Post

Bora Chheang, 19, will graduate from Front Range Christian School this month and will attend The Master’s College in Santa Clarita, Calif. on a scholarship. He’s lived in Colorado since July. (John Leyba, The Denver Post )

Nineteen-year-old Bora Chheang is running the race of his life Sunday, hoping to use the Post-News Colorado Colfax Marathon to raise college funds for Cambodian orphans.
Chheang was orphaned in Cambodia as a 9-year-old when his father was killed and his mother deserted him, he said.
For more than a year, Chheang lived with other orphan boys about his age, he said, using sling shots to kill birds to eat and stealing food when they could. They often slept outdoors.
The boys played soccer, kicking coconuts around on a hardscrabble field because they didn’t have a ball.
Eventually an aunt steered Chheang into a Christian orphanage, The House of Hope, in Phnom Penh, run by the nonprofit Asian Hope Inc.
“I didn’t know where I was going,” Chheang recalled of his life as an orphan.
“I was ready” to get off the streets, he said. “That’s pretty much when my life started.”
Now Chheang, who is in the United States on a visa, is graduating from Front Range Christian School in Jefferson County this month.
He’ll attend The Master’s College in Santa Clarita, Calif., on a scholarship.
But Chheang wants to raise college funds for other orphan students from Cambodia so they can follow in his footsteps.
Two childhood friends and fellow orphans, Ehud Seng and Sopoan Keo, both 19, will also run in the marathon. They are flying to Denver from Virginia, where they go to school.
Chheang, who has been in Colorado since July, began marathon training about seven weeks ago.
A natural and competitive athlete, Chheang played football and basketball this past year at Front Range, where he also maintained a straight A average.
Chheang has secured a couple of marathon pledges for less than $200. But he hopes to raise about $2,000 for his cause.
He trains and runs with Blake Murri, 50, a manager at Lockheed Martin whose family sponsors Chheang.
“It’s been a learning experience for all of us,” Murri said. “It’s been great seeing all the things Bora is involved in.”
Murri and his wife, Janiece, have three children ages 27, 24 and 17.
The 17-year-old, Sam, attends Front Range with Chheang and helps by driving the Cambodian student around, since he doesn’t have a driver’s license.
Beyond learning at school, Chheang has been absorbing, and adjusting to, American culture, said Janiece Murri, a registered nurse.
Initially Janiece and Chheang had to work on their relationship to dispel his Cambodian viewpoint that she be subservient.
As Bora stood in a hallway at Front Range this week, a line of students streamed by and one girl called out his name and blew him a kiss. He smiled and waved at the girl.
Chheang, who is popular at the school, said he’s not dating anyone because he’s too focused on schoolwork and the future.
He plans to become a minister and return to Cambodia.
Jordan Fischer, director of development with Asian Hope, met Bora in 2004 when he visited Cambodia. The organization runs boys’ and girls’ orphanages, a preschool and a K-12 school in Phnom Penh.
“He’s an amazing young man who has overcome some difficulties in his life that we’ll never experience,” Fischer said. “This will allow him to achieve his dreams and to be a great leader and success in helping to transform Cambodia.”
The 2008 Post-News Colorado Colfax Marathon kicks off Sunday about 6 a.m. in Denver’s City Park and includes a wheelchair championship race that starts at 5:55 a.m.
For more information on the charities and how to contribute, go to coloradocolfaxmarathon.org and click on “Our 2008 Charity Partners.”
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