Owing to his extraordinary abilities that impressed a generation and won him accolades, Conrad Njeru Karukenya, better known as Tiger Power, was a famous figure not only in his Embu backyard but across the country.
The outpouring of condolences after his death on Wednesday is testament to his fame in sports and weightlifting that saw him awarded Head of State Commendation in 2008 by President Mwai Kibaki.
During his active years, spanning five decades, he represented Kenya in many international exhibitions in Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda and Europe.
He died on Wednesday morning at Consolata Hospital, Kyeni where he had been admitted on Monday. He was aged aged 73.
His sister-in-law Margaret Muthoni said Tiger Power had been ailing since 2015, from heart and lung complications.
“He had been sick for some time and had been in and out of several hospitals. His condition put a stop to his stunts. We are waiting for a postmortem to establish the actual cause of his death,” said Muthoni.
Tiger Power, who reportedly had never fallen ill, was renowned for performing eye-popping stunts such as breaking six nails using his hands or teeth, lifting heavy weigts and having a heavy vehicle run over his belly.
But despite his immense fame, he did not die a rich man as a visit to his residence in Kevote village showed.
Tiger Power’s medium-sized house is built of red bricks but had stalled before completion.
Inside the house was his personal gym that had some improvised equipment. It had a treadmill and several weights and punching bags.
According to Muthoni, Tiger Power had designed the house in a way that could also host training sessions for young people.
His home appears modest compared to the standards of most homes in the area.
In 2015, after he fell sick and was admitted to Kenyatta National Hospital. He could not pay Sh7,000 bill and friends and fans had to fundraise for him.
Former Embu Sports chief officer Raymond Kinyua spearheaded the fundraising.
In her appeal, his wife Agnes Wanja said the family did not have any money to pay for his medical bill.
This raises the question: Where did the money he earned from his shows go?
Whereas some villagers claimed Tiger Power lived a very extravagant life in his heyday, the family maintains that he used his income on his wives and children. He is said to have had several.
According to the family, Tiger Power possessed the zeal to help the community and especially jobless youths.
Muthoni said that was why Tiger Power pursued a diploma in Early Childhood Development and Education in his mid 60s. He hoped to start a school in his village and create jobs.
Tiger Power attended St Pius X Seminary Nkubu where he was the sports captain throughout his years there.
His brother Angelo Njagi said though he had been sickly for a while, he continued exercising and mentoring youths on sporting and body building.
On social media, many of his fans eulogised him as a symbol of Embu strength.
Some even proposed that the Government replaces the Nyayo monument in Embu town’s CBD with a stature of Tiger Power as a way of honouring and immortalising him.
From 2011, Tiger Power embarked on a campaign to preach against drugs and substance abuse in schools and colleges.
Tiger Power, who confessed he never drank alcohol, visited several institutions where he encouraged young people to keep off drugs.
“If I took drugs at your age, I would not be able to do the things I do,” he once told students of Kangaru School after staging a performance.
His last major competition was in 2011 at the Riverside Studios in London in an event dubbed Superhuman Showdown, which highlighted individuals with super-human abilities.
In the TV show on the Discovery Channel, Tiger Power surprised the world when he placed six 100kg bags on his chest and he invited his handlers to stand on top of the bags.
He finished second out of five contestants in the show that was broadcast in 209 countries.
Tiger Power also represented Kenya in many International Trade fairs, including Festival Mundial in Tilburg Holland 2005, Womex in Essen Germany 2002 and in several East and West Africa Trade Fairs.
In 2003, he won a trophy and a certificate for the best performance in Nairobi International Trade Fair after competing with the best people in the police, the military and the General Service Unit. He beat them all.
He also emerged tops in the East African Trade Exhibition in Kampala, Uganda, while in 2001 he was top during a similar exhibition in Tanzania.
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