Kenya is renowned worldwide for athletics prowess. What the world should know is that we don’t grow the running skills in the farms.
The skills are honed through blood and sweat in the hills and valleys where budding athletes run for kilometres every morning and afternoon until their legs grow strong and as thin as strings.
Every time I hear our national anthem being played after our runners have shown the other runners dust in international competitions, I am reminded of sports day at Karugo Group of Schools.
The day sat in the annual calendar like black forest cake and we awaited it with excitement.
Small boys like me never got a chance to participate competitively due to my weak bones and tiny lungs that could not allow me to run around the field five times without collapsing.
ATHLETES OF CHOICE
There were pupils who had repeated classes until they were approaching twenty years of age and still in Class Six. Those were the athletes of choice, and during the athletics meeting they were held in high reverence by everyone including the headmaster.
Every time they brought a trophy back to the school, the headmaster would parade them in front of us and use big words to describe them like ambitious, aspiring and purposeful.
The teachers in charge of sports were particularly excited because if the big boys and girls ran well and proceeded to the nationals, the whole team including the teachers was assured of a free trip to the venue where they would spend a week of good sport and merry making.
Sports day meant no classes, especially the double Maths lesson that was collectively held in contempt, and that convenient absence was relished.
Come that day and all the schools in the location gathered at our municipal stadium.
You needed to have been exceptionally good to your parents so as to get at least five shillings that would guarantee you a day full of goodies like mangoes, bananas and sugarcane in the market.
MODERN DAY RUGBY MATCHES
Just like in the modern day rugby matches, none of us paid any attention to the happenings in the field. Bigger boys and girls sat close to each other in isolated corners of the field discussing matters of their small hearts.
The rest of us to whom those matters of the heart had not been revealed spent the day stuffing ourselves with fruits, sweets, and anything else that the five shillings could afford us.
My favourite was a small loaf of bread called ‘half-more’, an item that sat in every boys dietary dreams and made us work harder so that when we grew up we be employed in the bread manufacturing factory.
The 10km race was going on and everyone was going around nonchalantly waiting for the grand finishing that would provide some bit of excitement to the dull afternoon.
The boy in front had rounded the slow runners about three times, but they all trudged on since it was illegal to pull out of the race even if you broke a femur. Finally the bell for the last lap rang.
The leading boy went into a frenzy. Sadly for him, his shorts buttons gave way. My personal designer Man Kamaa was not born then, so the boy did not have the benefit of the sports garment that would have protected his dignity in the absence of his shorts.
He stopped momentarily and lifted back the shorts into position, but by that time the damage had been done and all eyes were trained on him for all the wrong reasons.
The field was awash with excitement as he held his shorts in a knot around his waist and ran like a deranged ostrich. He made a dash for the finishing line as a female teacher reached out for him at the finish line and threw him a ‘lesso’ in order to preserve the remaining shreds of his dignity.
He proceeded to the provincial level, and when he came back he regaled us with stories of how he ran with shoes for the first time.