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Youngster Cherotich has kept faith after an accident almost ended her athletics career

World 3000m steeplechase bronze medalist Faith Cherotich  displaying some of the medals she has won on several competitions she participated during an interview at home in Segetet Village ,Kericho county on December 19,2023.[Kipsang Joseph,Standard]

In the heart of Segetet village, Kipkelion West, Kericho County under the warm embrace of the sun, we meet 19-year-old Faith Cherotich, the world 3000m steeplechase bronze medalist, with her father, Joseph Keter, feeding their dairy cow with freshly cut Napier grass.

The laughter of Cherotich's younger siblings echoes in the background as they play around, creating a picturesque scene in the serene village.

Fresh from her triumph at Monte Carlo in Monaco, where she was named the Female Rising Star at the World Athletics Awards, Cherotich exudes joy and warmth. With a genuine smile, she invites us into their humble abode, offering a taste of local tea, a tradition in the county known for its tea plantation and where tea is not just a beverage but a way of life.

World 3000m steeplechase bronze medalist Faith Cherotich with her father at home in Segetet Village ,Kericho county feeding their Dairy cow on December 19,2023.[Kipsang Joseph,Standard]

"I just returned from gym training session in Kericho. I follow this routine three times a week. The travel, covering about 40 kilometers, is quite demanding, but we have no other option as there is no such facility nearby. After returning, I decided to assist my parents before heading to the training camp, which is just about five kilometers from here," Cherotich said.

The air is filled with the aroma of tea, the laughter of the family, and a scene that encapsulates the simplicity and warmth of their humble life. Having recently completed her Kenya Certificate of Secondary Examination at Kalyet Secondary School, Cherotich has etched her name in the annals of athletics history.

Her journey, marked by a consistent ascent from junior triumphs to a senior podium, is a testament to her extraordinary talent.

World 3000m steeplechase bronze medalist Faith Cherotich during an interview at home in Segetet Village ,Kericho county on December 19,2023.[Kipsang Joseph,Standard]

According to her father, Cherotich's remarkable speed and efficiency were evident from a young age.

"Even as a child, she showed amazing speed and efficiency. She loved running; when you sent her to the shop to buy something, she would dash, and in a moment, she was back. She has natural talent," recalls Keter.

Cherotich's prowess became more apparent during her primary school years, consistently outshining her peers in many competitions.

Her exceptional performance caught the attention of coach Bernard Rono, who sought permission from her parents to provide professional training. From then, Cherotich's career has been on a upward trajectory.

"During the school games at Taita Towett Secondary, I witnessed an exceptional performance in the 5000m by a remarkably talented young girl. Recognising her potential, I felt a compelling urge to support her, understanding that many such talents risk going to waste without proper guidance," Rono said.

World 3000m steeplechase bronze medalist Faith Cherotich .[Kipsang Joseph,Standard]

Cherotich's career trajectory took a positive turn, with notable achievements in various competitions. She first competed in the Koitalel Memorial in Nandi in 2021, finishing 27th out of over 300 athletes in the 5km Under-18 cross country. Despite challenges like school fees, she excelled in various competitions.

"School fees has been a challenge; sometimes I would miss school, but my parents have always supported me despite the challenges. My coach has been pushing me harder to train and motivating me, telling me one day I will celebrate," Cherotich said.

She made a resounding statement in her inaugural race in 2022. In her international debut against senior rivals, Cherotich secured a noteworthy second-place finish at the Kip Keino Classic Continental Tour Gold meeting at Kasarani on May 7, 2022. She crossed the finish line behind Norah Jeruto, shattering her personal best with a remarkable time of 9:12.04 and establishing a world age-17 best; Olympic champion Peruth Chemutai finished third.

World 3000m steeplechase bronze medalist Faith Cherotich with her father at home in Segetet Village ,Kericho county feeding their Dairy cow on December 19,2023.[Kipsang Joseph,Standard]

Following her triumph at Kenya’s World U20 Trials held at the Nyayo National Stadium, Nairobi, in July of that year, Cherotich embarked on the World Athletics U20 Championships at the Pascual Guerrero Stadium, Cali, on August 4, 2022, as the favourite. Surpassing expectations, she dominated the competition, claiming victory in the 3000m steeplechase with a commanding performance, clocking 9:16.14.

Cherotich continued her stellar performances throughout 2022. At the Wanda Diamond League meeting in Brussels, on September 2, 2022, she set a new personal best of 9:09.63. Six days later, at the Diamond League final in Zurich, she finished third with a time of 9:06.14, propelling her to the third position on the world U20 all-time list.

This year, Cherotich elevated her achievements, beginning with the World Athletics Cross Country Championships in Bathurst in February. Despite finishing fourth in the U20 race with a time of 21:10, her lowest place finish of the year, she demonstrated resilience in a race dominated by Ethiopians, led by Senayet Getachew.

Her track season commenced at the Diamond League meeting at Suhaim bin Hamad Stadium, Doha, on May 5, 2023, where she secured a third-place finish in the 3000m steeplechase with a time of 9:06.43, a mere 0.29 seconds off her personal best set in Zurich eight months earlier.

Returning home, Cherotich participated in the Kip Keino Classic at Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani, Nairobi, on May 13, finishing second in 9:15.08.

Cherotich's career nearly came to a halt when she and her coach were involved in a tragic road accident on the Nakuru-Eldoret Highway. They were en route to Eldoret International Airport for a flight to Rome, Italy, to participate in the Diamond League.

The car they were traveling in collided head-on with a Toyota Prado while attempting to evade a trailer that had lost its brakes.

"On the material day, I remember it was on May 29, I was supposed to jet out of the country; we were heading to Eldoret Airport. A trailer lost its brakes, and to avoid a head-on collision, we swerved. Unfortunately, we collided with another car. My coach was seated behind, I was in front with the driver. The next minute we found ourselves in the hospital; we thank God we came out alive," Cherotich said.

“It is the reason you see I don’t have other teeth; I lost them in the accident, but we are lucky we came out alive. And that's how the journey to Rome was stopped; it took us more than two weeks to recover, and immediately after those two weeks, she had to participate in the trials for the world championships in Budapest,” recalls Rono.

Coming out of the injury, Cherotich earned herself a spot at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest after finishing third in the trials held in Nairobi.

In Budapest, making her senior international debut on September 16, Cherotich won her heat and secured a bronze medal in the 3000m steeplechase final in 9:00.69, setting a new personal best.

Bahrain’s Winfred Yavi claimed victory, with Kenyan compatriot Beatrice Chepkoech, the world record-holder, securing the second position.

“Budapest marked my first senior outing. I decided not to tense up and to run my own race, even though I competed with senior athletes who had been in the field for years like Beatrice Chepkoech, Yavi, and the Ethiopians, but I enjoyed the experience,” she said.

Her commitment and achievements did not go unnoticed, earning her the title of Female Rising Star at the World Athletics Awards in Monte Carlo.

"I express my gratitude to my fans, coach, and family for encouraging me to push harder. Being in the company of athletes like Faith Kipyegon and Kiptum (Kelvin) was inspiring, making me realise that everything is possible with its own timing," said Cherotich expressing her gratitude.

Highlighting her role model, Faith Kipyegon, the record holder in the women's 1500m, Cherotich said Kipyegon's humble beginnings and gradual rise in her athletics career and discipline in the sport are admirable, and she would wish to break a record like her.

“Faith Kipyegon is my role model, and she has inspired me to venture into athletics. I used to watch her run; I decided that I wanted to be like her. I am still far from her level, but I am aiming high,” Cherotich said.

Balancing academics and athletics has been a challenge for Cherotich, requiring early morning runs and occasional missed classes. However, with the completion of her secondary education, a new chapter begins.

“Balancing studies with training has not been easy; it requires waking up early for morning runs before the school day starts at 7am. I train until 4pm and then return to the camp for evening training. Unfortunately, we don't have a gym on-site, so we travel to Kericho town, especially during the off-season in December where I go three times a week. Once the season starts, I do gym workouts at the camp,” she said.

Rono acknowledges the sacrifices and arrangements made to accommodate Cherotich's training, emphasising the restructuring of their program now that she has more time.

Cherotich, who trains alongside six other athletes in a small but growing Athletics Camp established about five years ago, attributes her success to rigorous daily training and the importance of nutrition.

“In the morning after training, I take a glass of fresh milk, then tea with bread and honey and when I go to school, I take the school's normal food. In the evening after school classes when I return to the camp, I take porridge made from flour and other ingredients like wheat flour, cassava, omena, groundnuts, and many more. But the daily program varies; mostly in the evening, we take ugali with meat, sometimes ugali with eggs, but mursik (sour milk) is a must,” Cherotich said.

Rono says Cherotich is a beacon of hope for women in steeplechase. Despite obstacles, their commitment remains strong as they intensify training.

“We face challenges with facilities, utilising land in the forest for training, lacking a proper training field, and having to travel to Kericho for gym facilities. The steeplechase in the country encounters difficulties, especially on the men's side. However, Faith Cherotich is a promising talent for women,” he said.

World 3000m steeplechase bronze medalist Faith Cherotich  with her coach  Bernard Rono during an interview at home in Segetet Village ,Kericho county on December 19,2023.[Kipsang Joseph,Standard]

Cherotich's eyes are now set on the Olympics in Paris 2024, promising to work hard to maintain Kenya's dominance in the steeplechase discipline. When not running, Cherotich finds joy in listening to gospel music and actively contributes to her parents' household.

Her father expresses immense pride in her accomplishments. The family envisions her pursuing further studies while concurrently nurturing her athletic talent.

"We believe in the synergy between education and sports. We are confident that Faith can excel in both; we continue to offer our prayers and blessings for her continued success on this remarkable journey," Keter said.

Cherotich's life tells a story of resilience, dedication, and the unwavering pursuit of dreams. As she continues her journey, she stands not just as an athlete but as an inspiration, a rising star destined to illuminate the world of athletics.

By AFP 3 hrs ago
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