Tegla Loroupe is a Kenyan long-distance track and road runner. She was the first African woman to win the New York City Marathon and has held many world records – from 20km to the marathon.
Tegla Loroupe was born in the West Pokot District of Kenya – situated in the Rift Valley, 420km north of Nairobi. Tegla grew up with 24 siblings; her father had four wives. She spent her childhood working fields and looking after younger brothers and sisters. From an early age, Loroupe was given a nickname – Chametia. It means “the one who never gets annoyed.” – reflecting her cheerful personality.
At the age of seven she started to go to school – which involved a barefoot run of ten kilometres every morning. It was at school that her first talent for running was spotted. She started taking part in school athletics and external races.
These early races were normally held over a distance of 800 or 1500 metres. However, with the exception of her mother and older sister, she received little support for her dream to become a runner. At one point, her father banned her from running saying it was not ladylike. Loroupe was expected to concentrate on more utilitarian tasks such as looking after siblings. Loroupe became dismayed at the obstacles placed in front of her. At one point, she even considered becoming a nun.
However, Loroupe persisted and continued her running. Ever the peacemaker, she also later made peace with her father. Although she wryly commented “Of course we’re friends now,” she said. “When you’re successful, everyone wants to be your friend.”
”He said he was sorry that he was close to destroying my career,” Loroupe said. ”I told him I was lucky that I had a strong mind, and I didn’t listen to him.”
Initially, the Kenyan athletics federation were not too impressed with Loroupe – she was considered too frail. However, after winning a prestigious cross country race in 1988, this changed. She was nominated for the junior world championships, and at her first attempt (1989) she finished 28th. This enabled her to focus on running full time.
In 1994 Loroupe ran her first major marathon in New York and won. She was the first African woman to win the New York Marathon. As a consequence she became an important sporting role model. Kenya at last had a female runner to rank alongside its talented male athletes. After this initial success, Tegla Loroupe went on to win many major marathons around the world.
Between 1997 and 1999, she won three consecutive world half marathon Championships. In the World Championships she won bronze in the 10,000m in both 1995 and 1999.
During the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Loroupe was tipped to be a hot favourite. However, on the eve of the race, she suffered from food poisoning. Despite being weakened by the illness, she managed to complete both the marathon in 13th place and the 10,000m in fifth place. Loroupe late stated that she started the marathon out of a sense of duty to all the people looking up to her as a role model in Kenya.
Between 19 April 1998 – 30 September 2001, Loroupe held the world record for the marathon. She initially set a time of 2:20:47 in the 1998 Rotterdam marathon. In 1999, she broke her own record, setting a time of 2:20:43 in the Berlin marathon. She has also held world records at one hour, 20, 25 and 30 kilometres.
The marathon proved to be Loroupe’s most successful distance. She won the marathons of Rotterdam three times between 1997 and 1999, New York in 1994 and 1995, Berlin in 1999, London and Rome in 2000 and Lausanne in 2002.
In 2003, Loroupe found the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation and has been an active advocate for peace. She has been successful in bringing members of warring tribes together. In 2006, she founded the 10km Peace Race, where over 2,000 warriors from six different tribes took part, forgetting their differences and getting united in sport. Loroupe said the motivation for the race was to use her fame to help bring about greater harmony.
I grew up in a pastoral environment where life was really hard because of the local conflicts between the tribes and people stealing cattle. All of this on top of conditions that were hard to start with. I was lucky. I had talent and was able to make a success out of running and I felt that I wanted to give things back to the community I grew up in.
The race has become an important and significant athletic event. Loroupe’s work in promoting peace has been praised by many. Beatrice Karanja, a regional media officer for Oxfam said.
In 2006, she was named a United Nations Ambassador of Sport. She is also a member of the ‘Champions for Peace’ a group of athletes seeking to use the power of sport to bring about peace. Loroupe has also sought to advance the opportunities of Kenyan women. She is a role model and has helped many women widen their horizons and enter new fields such as running.
Right now, we have a lot of women running, more than before. For me, I had to fight the federation. Still now, I have to and I don’t why. But at least now there are chances for other women. It makes me proud. That is very positive. I’m happy about that. Tegla To the New York Times.
Tegla Loroupe now devotes much of her time to humanitarian and peace activities, through her Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation, using sport and education initiatives. She recently opened up the Tegla Loroupe Peace Academy, a primary day and boarding school in Siyoi near Kapenguria that aims at providing quality education to children from pastoralist communities.