Nine months after giving birth, VIVIAN CHERUIYOT knew her life would never be the same again. Being a new mom and a national figure with a hard task to accomplish, her work was well cut out. She exclusively spoke to JONATHAN KOMEN on the sacrifices she had to make to win a gold in the ongoing IAAF World Athletics Championships in Beijing, China
In October 19, 2013, Vivian Cheruiyot added a new feather to her life. She gave birth to her son Allan Kiprono, but even with the excitement that comes with motherhood, she knew she had to move on fast. Being an athlete shouldering a nation’s burden, she had to hit the ground running.
Like many other mothers, her first task was to lose the nagging post-baby weight. So nine months even before her son took his first steps, she set her sights on conquering the world. And as she puts it, things don’t just happen.
They are made to happen. And it was no surprise when Vivian won the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Athletics Championships 10,000m gold medal in Beijing, China, on Monday evening.
Vivian and her husband Moses Kiplagat, who is her coach, had laid out excellent preparations which even saw them honour their cultural beliefs: taking their baby Allan Kiprono to Beijing to mark Keiyo celebratory traditions.
“I had prepared well and certain of victory. I was not surprised to win. And that’s why I went along with my husband and our child Allan Kiprono who is now one year ten months to Beijing so that I hold him after winning the gold. I also wanted him to have a feel of the gold,” Vivian told Eve Woman Magazine by telephone from Beijing on Thursday.
Vivian, an Inspector of police attached to Criminal Investigations Department (CID), went on: “In our Keiyo culture, you must hold your child at that special moment–after a tedious job. This is not something unique for all new mums. Women graduating from universities, while still in their gowns, hold their babies as they take a sip of Mursik.
“The same case also happens to those with babies and passing out from Kenya Police, Kenya Defence Forces and other disciplined forces. They do that while in their ceremonial uniforms. This is to pass on the blessings to their children.”
She has always been determined to excel in athletics and could not let the nagging post baby weight that many mothers struggle with to get into her way.
“I had to persevere a lot of pains in the first two months of my training given that I had to shed the weight I had gained. I was weighing 56kgs after giving birth and had to cut down to the current 39kgs. I have a passion for athletics. I had missed athletics for nine months,” Vivian said.
But Vivian, who stands out for her longevity on the tracks in Kenya, does a lot of training back in her rural home.
And standing along the Elgeyo escarpment on the sidelines of Toroplong’on village in Keiyo South in the morning, you will always meet a group of athletes, bodies glistening from sweat.
All are dressed in running gear –full track suits, bikers, singlets and T-shirts. As their feet pound the ground in yet another season, there is nothing to distinguish one runner from the other. In fact you will fail to notice Vivian at first glance.
Standing at 5’ 1’’, she is indeed diminutive. But a second glance will reveal a smooth running female with easy steps and economical movement of the arms and a text book long distance running style. The bobbing pony tail –her hairstyle –somehow stands her out.
A third look and you may begin to notice the imperceptible signs that she is indeed special. Other runners seem to want to run in her strides while others aggregate around her.
Nick-named “Kadogo” (small), she is a giant in women’s long distance running. Sample her collection card: 5,000m and 10,000m world champion (2011), Olympic silver and bronze medallist over the distances and a former world cross-country junior and senior champion.
Her giant strides to the pinnacle of world distance running started in tears in 1997. Then she was a Standard Four pupil at Chemwabul Primary School in Keiyo South and a keen runner. She was good enough to enter the 1997 national cross-country championships trials and showed it when she won the junior race at the Ngong Race Course.
But at 14, she was considered underage and disallowed from joining the Kenyas team. “I remember bursting into tears. I was inconsolable. Here, I was the winner of a national trial but unable to represent my country,” Vivian recalls.
She was to finally make her debut in the national colours the following year when she finished fifth at the world cross-country championships in Marrakech, Morocco.
Vivian,born on September 11, 1983, and the third born in a family of eight started to train in athletics while herding the family’s goats at the nearby Kaptagat Forest and trekking to their ancestral farmlands in Kerio Valley.
At the IAAF World Championships in Belfast, Northern Ireland, earlier that year she clinched her maiden podium finish with silver.
Things seemed to pick up for the highly talented Vivian, glowing alumni of the athletics-rich Sing’ore Girls High School in Keiyo North. She stormed into victory at the 2,000 World Cross-Country Championships in Vilamoura, Portugal, and bagged silver at the world junior in Santiago, Chile.
Things turned flat out for her in the following years but showed her promise with second placing behind Defar in 3,000m and 5,000m at the World Athletics Final in Stuttgart, Germany, in 2007.
And she picked up to greater heights, hitting the crescendo in 2011 when she won the world cross-country championships and 5,000m and 10,000m at the world championships in Daegu, South Korea.
The unexpected, however, dawned on her in Monaco at the 2011 IAAF annual gala when she lost the IAAF World Female Athlete of the Year Award to Australian hurdler Sally Pearson in what raised eyebrows across the athletics world.
But Kiplagat, her husband, was around to console her. “Kiplagat is man I loved after a long term appraisal. He is hard working, understanding and caring. And these were the qualities I outlined before he proposed to me. I have known him for long since we come from the same sub location.”
Despite having returned home with High Performance Award in Monaco, fortunes were up for Vivian who was named the winner of the prestigious Laureus Award – chosen as the best Sportswoman of the Year ahead of a star-studded field.
But Vivian is an athletics-only sports lover: “I love athletics only. I have no other sport in sight....I like watching wild animals and above all, serving at the Kenya Police.”
“I love this sport so much but I will not encourage my children to take up athletics. It’s an individual choice. It’s sad that doping is gaining ground in Kenya. But I still encourage a clean sport,” she says.
Vivian said: “I love my police job. Some people may doubt if I understand the job well since I always spend much time in athletics, but let me tell you I am trained. I know how to use a gun.”
What has kept her consistency? It is simple, the cordial relationship she has with her husband Kiplagat, for one, who has been her strength as their marriage vows say: “In sickness and in health.”
Vivian says there is need for a deeply connecting relationship between female athletes with their spouses as the contrary adversely affects performances.
“Running involves a lot of psychological stability. And there is nowhere you can be stable than being in good terms with your family and your coach,” says Vivian.
Cut from a different material altogether, Vivian stands out from your typical multi-tasking Kenyan athletes who mix business ventures with running. Kiplagat has taken over the business management role, leaving Vivian to concentrate on running.
“You need to be psychologically stable to perform in athletics. You cannot purport to be a business manager at the same time an athlete. The sport needs a lot of devotion and we found it wise that I oversee our businesses,” said Kiplagat.
Despite these, Vivian must still honour certain cultural obligations. “I am duty bound to prepare dinner for my husband. That’s a requirement in our Keiyo culture,” Vivian says.
Kiplagat explained: “I normally share this with my friends who married athletes to ensure their running spouses are psychologically stable if they expect to reap from athletics. Many factors contribute to the success of a female athlete but nothing beats a stable mind.”
“As a coach, I always pray to God that she performs well in races. At times, our families question if she fails to perform well.”