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Ajuma Nasenyana: I was a rising star athlete before I hit the runway

Achieving Woman
 Supermodel Ajuma Nasenyana (Photo: Courtesy)

Standing at an impressive 5’10, the accomplished model Ajuma Nasenyana is majestic, gorgeous and hard to miss.

Her chiselled features and fit physique - including those long, enviable legs and warm, bright smile - are a sight to behold, and it is easy to see why she is so successful in her career.

The now 37-year-old runway model began her journey in the competitive fashion industry when she participated in Miss Tourism Kenya in 2003.

She was crowned Miss Nairobi, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Agencies came calling and soon, the supermodel was eyeing the international scene. She was listed in Ford Supermodel of the World competition in 2004.

In 2005, she was listed as one of the top 10 world’s most beautiful women by Complex Magazine. In 2012, she was named Africa Fashion Week model of the year.

Her influence and success have seen her work with some of the biggest designer brands, including Victoria’s Secret, Vivienne Westwood and Fendi.

Now, she has opened up on her other skill that is hardly spoken about - athletics.

In a sit-down with Eve magazine, Ms Nasenyana spoke about her humble upbringing and the journey to international stardom that few know began on the field, rather than on the runway.

“I was born in Lodwar by a very young mother, it was a teenage pregnancy and we met a family that took us in - my mother and I. They took me to a private school and educated my mother too,” Ms Nasenyana said of her early days.

And she had been aware of her talent from a young age. She narrated that she has always been a fast runner, even compared to her peers in primary school.

“When we would go to cross country events and tournaments with other schools, I was always number one,” she said.

Her athletic skills captured a lot of attention. The model said that she was even scouted by record-making runner Eliud Kipchoge’s coach at one point.

“He came to our school and saw me run, and he was very impressed. He immediately offered me a scholarship to Virginia Military Academy. There was already one for boys but they were gearing up to open one for girls,” she said.

The supermodel revealed that she started training, but found it so difficult and strenuous that it was a relief when modelling knocked on her door.

“Running was so painful. I would be so exhausted, go through twisting my ankle and other such experiences. So I looked forward to the switch,” she said.

But it was her time on the track that brought her to the limelight to be seen by the who is who in fashion - who immediately recognised that she was perfect for the industry.

“I was so good at running. In fact, in 2003 I was the 400 metres national champion. When I became the champion, I was in the newspaper and the Ford Models Agency saw me there. They said, ‘We gotta have her!’”

“I was not trained; I think I was a natural. I just found myself on a line-up somewhere near Naomi Campbell,” said Ms Nasenyana.

Speaking about her experience at Victoria’s Secret, Ms Nasenyana reflected on the inclusivity of the black community on the international runway.

“At the time, that was before Black Lives Matter movement, black models were being used less, we were like tokens. You would find about 20 white models and two black ones,” she said.

Because of that, Ms Nasenyana thought she would not get the part, but she was called for casting and secured her dream job soon after.

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