What started as a family hobby to hone swimming skills a few years ago has turned into an Olympic dream for Marion Alala.
At only 12 years, Alala has perfected her swimming skills from family swimming outings and is now taking on older competitors to compete in categories above her age.
As they say, age is an issue of mind over matter and if you don’t mind it doesn’t matter. For Alala, age has not limited her a bit.
“My mother is an ardent swimmer and we would spend most of the weekends on swimming outings. She would train my sister and me, a sport we started when I was barely five years old,” said Alala.
The youngster produced an impressive performance at the 2022 national secondary school games in Nakuru where she competed in three categories; finishing second in two and emerging third in one category
And she carried her brilliant form into the just concluded Federation of East Africa Secondary Schools Sports Association (FEASSSA) games in Arusha, Tanzania.
Team Kenya of Marion Alala, Okal Joshua, Nyakundi Asante and Karanja Manuel won gold in mixed 200 SC meter medley relay with a time of 2:13.36
Tanzanian team of Avalon Fischer, Walker Ellis, Manuel Jacques and Anouk Stephanie came second with a time of 2:16.24, while Uganda’s Kisawuzi Tasha, Nabukenya Bilquis, Mwanguye Grace, Mulumba Michael finished third with a time of 2:16.72
In the 12-15 years girls’ category, 50 SC meter backstroke, she came second with a time of 37.00 behind fellow Kenyan Audrey Chebet who posted a time of 34.03secs.
Uganda’s Nabukeera Paula came third with a time of 37.24 seconds.
In the 12-15 years 50 SC meter butterfly girls’ category, Alala finished third with a personal best time of 33.15secs. The category was won by Uganda’s Tara Kisawuzi with a time of 29.21 seconds ahead of Kenya’s Audrey Chebet who posted 32.84secs.
In the national games in Nakuru, Alala representing the Eastern region finished second with a time of 34.60secs and 17 points behind 15-year-old Audrey Chebet from Nairobi who topped with 20 points with a time of 34.59.
In girls’ 12-15 50 SC meter backstroke Alala, came second again after clocking 36.95. Chebet, 17, won the category with a time of 36.35 and 20 points while 14-year-old Rana Ameya from Nairobi came third registering 37.74 and 16 points.
However, in girls’ 200 SC meter IM, she failed to qualify after finishing third with a time of 2:52.21. Bianchi Maria, 18, from the coast won the category with a time of 2:43.31 while 16-year Wangechi Erica from Nairobi came second registering a time of 2:49.20.
“I was very happy after managing to qualify for the East African games. It was not an easy competition, battling with other swimmers a little older than me, but my coach had prepared me well,” said Alala.
The Year Eight pupil at Viraj International Academy and a firstborn in a family of two whose dream is to represent Kenya in the Olympics draws her inspiration from world marathon record holder Eliud Kipchoge.
“My dream is to become an Olympian. I have been inspired by Eliud Kipchoge’s saying that ‘no human is limited’ and I believe I am not limited as well,” she said.
Alala’s personal coach Peter Mwangangi revealed that Alala’s swimming journey has been an upward consistency since he introduced her to the sport at the age of five.
“I started coaching her when she was around four or five years old. She is a hardworking girl, obedient and a go-getter. Even when the training is hard, she normally perseveres,” said Mr Mwangangi.
He described her as a swimmer with a great potential, adding that he normally trains her according to the events she is going to participate in.
“I normally set short-term and long-term goals. For example, at the beginning of the year we had targeted to do some specific time and she crashed all of them. I had given her a target of a time of 35 in butterfly but she ended achieving a time of 32. That is why she managed to qualify for the East African games because she had even broken the record for her age group here in Kenya,” said Mwangangi.
At her age, Alala has got several medals on her name both from local and international competitions.
In 2021, she participated in CANA Zone Three in Uganda where she scooped a silver medal in 200 IM and bronze in 50m butterfly.
Early this year she participated in CANA Zone Four in Zambia and won silver in 200 IM and bronze in three-kilometre open water swimming.
Her school games teacher Valentine Kwena said the 2022 national games was one of the most competitive events, especially in individual medley where Alala had to compete with students older than her.
He added that Alala is a top-performing student both in class and in co-curricular activities.
Her mother Grace Kingori described Alala as a hardworking girl.
“I didn’t know she was going to get this far. I used to take her out just to enjoy and learn swimming as a skill, but that is the point where her current coach saw she was talented. I then enrolled her in a swimming club,” said Grace.
Melissa May, 7, is also following in her sister’s (Marion) footsteps. She is one of the best swimmers in the seven years and under category and also currently topping the Kenya Swimming Federation League in her age category.