Special Olympic Games champ works as maid

By Lydiah Nyawira: Saturday, February 16th 2019 at 00:00 GMT +3 | Athletics
Special Gold Medalist in Los Angeles U.S.A in 2015,Susan Gatwiri at her home in Mwichuiri Village, in Kieni ,Nyeri,on February 15,2019.Gatwiri dropped out of school due to lack of school fees is now languishing in abject poverty.Kibata Kihu/Standard

Gatwiri struck double gold in the 2015 world’s sporting fiesta but leads squalid lifestyle.

You are standing inside Ruringu Stadium in Nyeri on a cold evening. You 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 Susan Gatwiri - the 2015 Special Olympics champion.

She’s small-bodied and intellectually challenged. Donning a grey hoodie, Gatwiri takes six laps on the track. Once done, she retreats to her employer’s home in Skuta Estate where she works as a house help. 

But Gatwiri is not your ordinary celebrity. She ensured the national anthem was played twice at the 2015 Special Olympic Games in Los Angeles, USA, and then crowned it all with the prestigious Sports Woman with Disability of the Year Award, which she received Sh75,000.

She was in tip top form to win 3,000m race in an impressive 11:03.13 before chalking up victory in 5,000m in 18:51.4.

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She has come a long way. Judith Kiende, her mother, enrolled her in special class unit at Mere Primary School. They have lived in Judea village in Kieni Constituency since 2010 when her mother relocated from Meru County looking for a job.

Her athletics prowess has no doubt raised her profile at home. But Gatwiri bothers less with it as such achievements, “have never helped their family.”

Fredrick Kiberenge, the Mere Primary School head teacher who taught Gatwiri CRE from Standard Four to Standard Eight, recalls how their hearts swelled with pride when she put Kenya on the world map.

“She was enrolled in the special class unit because of her disability. She did not excel in conventional studies. She loved sports and athletics which set her apart from the rest of her peers,” he said.

While in Standard Eight last year, Kiberenge says, Gatwiri made the national team to Special Olympic Games and they hoped it could turn around their fortunes. It did not.

The Government pledged to reward the medallists and failed to honour it. It is sad tale for the family that lives in abject poverty.

Special Gold Medalist in Los Angeles U.S.A in 2015,Susan Gatwiri with her parent at her home in Mwichuiri Village, in Kieni ,Nyeri,on February 15,2019.Gatwiri dropped out of school due to lack of school fees is now languishing in abject poverty.Kibata Kihu/Standard

Gatwiri could not proceed to secondary school over lack of fees. “We are aware she received a cash award of Sh75,000. We expected that she could also get a reward from the Government,” he said.

At Gatwiri’s home, there are three mud-walled houses surrounded by crooked wooden sticks.

The glittery trophies kept in the house, dusty medals hanging from the wall and more then 50 certificates from races emerge as stark contrast to the squalid life she leads.

“Gatwiri had difficulties in learning. She could not pick up like other children. I realised she has an interest in athletics. She practised running around the compound,” her mother said.

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