Contrary to what some may think, not all Kenyan runners are millionaires.
In fact, the majority are hustlers, moonlighting on odd jobs while hoping to be noticed by some athletes’ manager or race director who would then catapult them onto the global running circuit.
There, they would still struggle to make the big breakthrough into the limelight that stars like Eliud Kipchoge, Mary Keitany, Geoffrey Kamworor and Brigid Kosgei enjoy.
Last week, Olympic marathon champion and world record holder Kipchoge said about 80 percent of athletes in various regions across the country need support because they have always depended on competitions across the globe to put food on their table.
Kipchoge was distributing foodstuff on a mission engineered by the Ministry of Sport in which he and his Eliud Kipchoge Foundation are ambassadors.
Over 100 athletes benefitted from the supply in Kericho, Nandi, Uasin Gishu and Elgeyo-Marakwet counties.
The stimulus is gradually being rolled out and other regions, including Eastern, Central and Nyanza, will also benefit, according to Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed who launched the drive last week.
On Thursday, we caught up with Pius Komen, a sports officer at the Kenya Universities Sports Association, who also distributed food to some athletes in Iten, Elgeyo-Marakwet County last week.
Iten, dubbed “The Home of Champions,” has seen a reduction in sports action due to the coronavirus pandemic.
A town that used to see thousands of athletes training in various groups throughout the day has now been left with businessmen going on with their daily chores, with only a few athletes zooming past as they follow the government’s directive of social distancing by training alone.
Many upcoming athletes are now forced to look for manual jobs to make ends meet after their races were either cancelled or postponed due to the pandemic.
Komen has been helping the athletes out for the last four years.
“I have been helping athletes for the last four years but last week the numbers of the needy increased because many are sleeping without food due to the coronavirus which has literally stopped the sports calendar. I did this from my own budget,” said Komen in Iten on Thursday.
Nation Sport visited one of the construction sites behind the Iten Police Station and to our surprise, some of the workers on site were upcoming athletes who are now doing manual jobs to put food on the table.
Some wearing their training and racing shoes, the athletes were busy with various tasks with some saying they had to walk into the construction site immediately after their morning runs so that they didn’t get late for the daily contracts.
The situation on the ground is so bad that some female athletes, also looking for manual jobs to get by, wash clothes for families around the town for a pittance.
Rodgers Kiplimo, a road racer, was preparing this season to compete in the Zaragoza 10-kilometre road race in Spain this month, but the race was cancelled due to Covid-19.
He has been forced to suspend his training so that he can work on the construction site to get food and pay rent.
He has to be there by 8.00am in the morning and leave at 4.00pm, and earns Sh400 for a day’s work, far less than he would have perhaps earned each second he ran in the Zaragoza race.
“I have been forced to suspend my training so that I can have energy to work at the construction site because it’s a tedious job.
“At the end of the day, I need food and the landlord has to be paid by the end of the month,” said Kiplimo who has not been signed by any management.
He is asking well-wishers to come up and support the sportsmen and women by donating food which will sustain them during this hard time because many are in need.
“I would like to urge other well-wishers to also come up and help athletes by donating food because a hungry person cannot go for training,” he said.
Sheila Kiplagat, 28, has also been joining the men on the construction site after she couldn’t travel for the Illinois Marathon in USA which was to take place on April 29.
She had done good preparations and was optimistic that she would lower her personal best time, but the virus rudely stopped her ambitions.
“Since last year, I haven’t participated in any race and I was looking forward to doing well this year, but the virus has stopped everything.
“I have been doing manual jobs so that I can be able to get food to sustain me during this period,” said Kiplagat.
SAMUEL EDOME: (Half marathon):
The 27-year-old Edome has been training at the high altitude Iten area where he said he wanted to interact with the world beaters.
He was preparing to race in the Helsinki Half Marathon but was forced to shelve his plans and he has been training alone.
EVANS KIPLAGAT: (Marathon):
Kiplagat was prepared to race in the Hong Kong Marathon where he was eyeing a podium finish after good preparations. A well-wisher had paid for his air ticket and accommodation. “I was in good shape and excited that I would do well but the virus halted my plans abruptly.”
ENOCK KIPLIMO: (5,000M):
After his ‘O’ levels in Ainabkoi Secondary School in Uasin Gishu County last year, Kiplimo had high hopes as an upcoming athlete and wanted to use local road races to improve his performance
Kiplimo has also asked well-wishers to come and support the suffering athletes who are the country’s ambassadors.
ELIAS KIPTOO: (Road race).
Kiptoo said he was not used manual jobs because he uses most of his time training, but the virus has changed his life completely.
He was to compete in the Eldoret City Marathon after the Hannover Marathon was cancelled, forcing him to look for other ways of surviving.
“It has been hard for me because I have been training and getting to do manual jobs so that I can put food on my table. It has been really challenging,” said Kiptoo.
RODGERS KIPLIMO: (Road race)
Kiplimo was preparing to compete in the Zaragoza 10km road race in Spain before races were cancelled.
Kiplimo says he has been forced to suspend his training so that he can concentrate on looking for food at this hard time. “The coronavirus has destabilised me as an athlete and my hopes have been dashed. I’m forced to participate in manual jobs so that I can put food on the table,” said Kiplimo.
NOREEN KIPTOO: (Marathoner)
She hails from Kamendi in Trans Nzoia County and has been training in Iten after she heard that it has a conducive environment for sports.
On Thursday, she came late to a construction site in Iten and was forced to look for other jobs to do after missing out on the daily contract.
“It’s really bad but we have to persevere and we hope the virus will be contained so that our lives may go on as usual,” said Kiptoo.
PIUS KOMEN: (Donor)
Pius Komen, a sports officer with the Kenya Universities Sports Association, has been personally distributing relief food to athletes. Komen assisted 35 athletes last week by buying them food and other necessities, something he says he has been doing for the last four years. “I have been helping athletes for the last four years but last week the numbers increased due to the coronavirus. I did this from my own budget,” he says.
SHEILA KIPLAGAT: (Road races)
She has not featured in any race since last year when she competed in the Tianjin Marathon in China.
Her preparations to for the Illinois Marathon in USA were stopped by the coronavirus.
“I had high hopes this season and I wanted to improve my performance. I have been left to do manual jobs now at the construction sites,” said Kiplagat.
ANDREW KOSGEY: (Marathon)
He has been training in Iten, eyeing various races in the United States of America.
His plans to get a visa were halted by the coronavirus pandemic which forced the athletics calendar to change with various races postponed to next season.
Kosgei has been forced to work on a construction site in Iten where he invited his training mates who are now working with him.
MARK RONO: (Marathoner).
He is a half marathon specialist and has been working on the construction site for the last three weeks with an aim of saving money to pay rent and buy food.
Rono said despite camps being closed, athletes have been training individually.
“You have to eat well as an athlete and this has forced me to always look for something to do to put food on the table. It’s a tedious job but I have to do it,” he told us.
CHRISPUS KIPTOO: (Road race).
Kiptoo was preparing to feature in various races in USA but he had to shelve his ambitions this season.
He has been training and at the same time working at a construction site to get money for his rent and food.
“Life has become unbearable and that has forced me to train and do manual jobs. If I don’t do the manual jobs, I won’t get food and money to pay rent,” said Kiptoo.
ISAAC NG'ENO: (Marathoner)
Ng’eno was to compete in the Barcelona Marathon in March, but the coronavirus forced the organisers to cancel the race.
This prompted Ng’eno to eye local races which were also cancelled. “I have now been forced to do manual jobs and my plea for the well-wishers is to support us with what they have as we wait for the virus to be contained,” said Ng’eno.