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To the heartbroken Asiago, peace from within begins with a warm smile

Athletics
 Former road race champion Delillah Kemuto Asiago 27, with trophies she won during her time in athletics. She is living in a horrible situation at her chai mingi village in Trans Nzoia County. May 2, 2023. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

Even at her rock bottom, giving up is not an option.

Delillah Asiago no longer has a wall cabinet in her house in Charangany, Trans Nzoia County. Her dusty trophies sit on an ample table.

Asiago's house in Kapsara Village has several light bulbs, but they can't light. There's no electricity. Her power connection has been replaced with a koroboi - a kerosene-lit lantern. The athletics legend has been faced with innumerable challenges.

The brighter side of her story is that Asiago's 12km road race World Record (38:23) mark has remained unbroken for 28 years.

She set it at the Bay to Breakers in San Francisco, United States in May 1995. Asiago also set the 4-mile road record, the same year in Peoria, Illinois, on June 17.

Her triumphs in road and track races, such as the 1995 New York 10km, Exeter Half Marathon in Great Britain (1991) and a 10,000m in Tokyo the same year, as well as Yamaguchi 21km, Gasparilla Distance Classic Run 15km (1995 in the US) and New York 10 miles (1995), made Asiago one of Kenya's outstanding athletes during at her prime. A silver medal in 10,000m at the 1995 All Africa Games and a bronze in 3,000m (1991) add to Asiago's stellar achievements.

But the 51-year-old athlete has in the last 14 years, been at her rock-bottom and she had not given up.

Several agonising experiences conspired to ruin her retirement from a thriving athletics career.

 Former road race champion Delillah Kemuto Asiago 27, at her Chai mingi village in Trans Nzoia County. May 2, 2023. [Peter Ochieng, Standard] INSET: Kemunto in action during her days.[AP]

From a machete attack that left her half dead, to a fallout with close family members and then the loss of multi-million properties she acquired in her prime, Asiago has seen it all. At some point, she slipped into hopelessness and abject poverty.

The misfortunes spared her life but not her hard-earned wealth. She was born in Kisii County where she shaped her athletics career from a young girl while a student at Nyanturago Secondary School.

Despite her 28-year-old world record and a 2006 Dubai Marathon triumph among other feats, Asiago has been battling one frustrating experience after another. She is yet to pull through.

"These trophies give me hope of rising up again. Delillah is down but not out. I had the best management, but my family broke my heart," Asiago tells Standard Sport at her Majani Mingi village in Kapsara, Trans Nzoia.

"I must admit that I have gone through depression. These days, I wake up, read my Bible and pick tea from my small piece of land. I decided not to give up."

 Former road race champion Delillah Kemuto Asiago 27, with trophies she won during her time in athletics. She is living in a horrible situation at her chai mingi village in Trans Nzoia County. May 2, 2023. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

She lives alone in a big derelict house she built before her retirement, but she is quick to clarify that she is still in touch with her two children who live in Ngong, in the outskirts of Nairobi.

Asiago says she saw her hard-earned prize money and bonuses slip through her fingers day after day.

She acquired a nine-acre agricultural land overlooking Cherangany Hills in Trans Nzoia, two tractors, three public transport buses and two cars. She was the envy of many in Kapsara.

According to Asiago, a close family member abused her trust and allegedly brought down all her investments before leaving her a pauper.

"I was still an active athlete when I acquired properties and invested my money. My aim was to enjoy my retirement in peace. I woke up one day and I saw surveyors subdividing my land. When I inquired, I was told four acres of the land had been sold. I did not manage to recover it," she said. "After a few years, another portion of land was sold by the same family member, someone I trusted with my wealth. I sought answers and demanded to own the remaining portion. One time, I found my grain store had been brought down because of the change of ownership. I could not do anything because I lacked support from my matrimonial family in stopping the sale."

After the land was sold, the three buses were sold in a similar style.

"My frustrations and stress levels deepened. The pain of losing my property hit me hard and I quit training as well as active sport. I had bought an extra three acres of land next to mine to donate to my widowed sister but the move was stopped and I knew my journey for a better retirement was becoming harder," a devastated Asiago says.

She says she had lost control of a parcel of land she acquired in Otiende within Nairobi's Langata estate.

Asiago says she had given an athlete (who has since passed away) Sh3.5 million to secure her some plots within Nairobi, but the sportsman died before completing the task.

She claims her husband left Trans Nzoia for Nairobi after a disagreement over the management of her investment and property.

Her frustrations took another painful trajectory a decade ago after an argument with one of her male workers nearly turned tragic.

The worker, she claims, cut her with a machete on the left side of her head, just above the ear and sustained a serious injury that almost destroyed her left eye.

"I bled almost to death after the attack. Neighbours rushed me to a hospital in Kitale for treatment. No one imagined that I would survive the attack. It was difficult for me, but I survived," she says.

Left high and dry, and lonely, Asiago plunged into alcoholism. She says she quit alcohol recently as she began a battle to recover her properties. She's on a journey of rising up again.

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