For a man whose humility is as legendary as his athletic prowess, it is almost ironic that Eliud Kipchoge cannot outrun the limelight.
Fresh from being crowned the first human to ever run the marathon distance under two hours, it is interesting how the star slunk back home with pint-size applause.
To put the matter into context, picture Kipchoge being flown to the globally broadcasted event held in Vienna, Austria aboard billionaire Sir Jim’s luxurious Gulfstream G280.
Then see the same person taking on chores at the Global Sports Communication ultra-rarefied training camp alongside junior athletes barely a week later. Which Nike ambassador juggles a magazine interview decked in designer garments then shortly after hops on a boda boda to fetch livestock feed at the local market? Kipchoge, without doubt, may be a case study on how to handle fame.
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Kipchoge, after all, is arguably one of the most famous Kenyans.
With his recent unveiling by President Uhuru Kenyatta as Kenya’s new goodwill ambassador for tourism, the Greatest of All Time who coined the phrase ‘no human is limited’ finds himself in the glare of publicity yet again. This time, Kipchoge is not tasked with breaking an athletic record, but rather the entire nation is betting on him to offer an athletic shot in the arm of a limping industry.
Act of patriotism
Uhuru praised Kipchoge for choosing to represent his country as a ‘Magical Kenya’ brand ambassador, calling it an act of patriotism. Kipchoge assured the president he would do his best to promote the country as a top travel destination.
Kipchoge’s training regimen has received a fair share of interest. From past interviews, he reveals his weekly routine. From Monday to Saturday, running is a religion and the diary set in stone. But just as his life is marked by duality and contrasts, the trigger of Kipchoge’s success draws interest.
Despite his family living barely 25km away, this sporting icon chooses to spend the week in a basic room eating ‘simple’ meals prepared by the camp cook. Kipchoge, however, acknowledges the inspirational role his family plays in his life, terming them his ‘ignition key.’
As the cameras flashed during his unveiling as Kenya’s brand ambassador, Kipchoge introduced his family to Uhuru and Kenyans watching the live link from the Masai Mara Game Reserve. The Standard caught up with his wife, Grace Sugut, at the luxurious 12-tented Mahali Muzuri Safari Camp from whence the family was enjoying the wildebeest migration.
Grace, reserved yet sure-footed when she begins speaking, recalls with glee the first time she met Kipchoge. She insists they were destined for each other.
“I was 19 when I fell in love with Eliud. See, we were schoolmates and neighbours. My brother Amos was also his best friend. We both adore humility and this drew us together. Tulikatiana kikale (we dated the Kalenjin way) and after a year, we started life together solemnised in a traditional ceremony,” said Grace. Not long after getting married, the couple welcomed their firstborn Lynne, 13. Griffin, 9, and Gordon, 7, would follow. Their parenting style mirrors their own simple upbringing albeit with insistence on a proper education. One would assume that Grace’s existence is idyllic like that of other WAGS across the world. WAGS is an acronym used to refer to wives and girlfriends of top sportspersons.
For a person who espouses modesty, however, Grace’s week is full as she tends to the family’s commercial interests. Besides real estate, Grace is an ardent maize farmer who also rears dairy animals and poultry holding. When Kipchoge is home, she keeps up with his schedule ensuring he is ready for practice or any other engagements. Curious readers might want to know that Kipchoge’s favourite meal consists of ugali, chapati and the Kalenjin mursik.
But even as she runs her affairs, Grace cannot escape the fact that she is married to an icon. While she is content hanging in the background, there have been instances when she also basks in the media glare. One such episode was when Kipchoge went into the obligatory recovery session after his record sub two-hour marathon run. The excitement of spectators had to be satiated. With the star nowhere to be found, and learning that Grace was his spouse, the mob demanded an impromptu photo session, which she obliged to.
Back home, the experience is slightly different, as she has to deal with different expectations. Despite maintaining a low profile, Grace helps the needy who somehow manage to trace her home. She says she helps where she can.
While Grace does not run professionally, she is well aware of its importance and ensures she puts in a few miles every so often to keep fit.
Just like Kipchoge, Grace’s idea of a weekend blowout is relaxing at home flipping through a book. That, or you will find her enjoying Formula 1 on Sundays with her husband when he visits during his break from the camp. Her other passion is travel.
According to her, the change of environment is always a welcome relief and a chance for them to bond. She was especially impressed by the wildlife sightings they had while staying at Cottar’s 1920s Safari Camp with its exclusive 250,000-acre concession bordering Loliondo in Tanzania and later at Mahali Muzuri at Olare Motorogi Conservancy. Besides the predators, her other highlight was the famous wildebeest migration.
Asked about her favourite travel destinations, Grace picks Laikipia. Internationally, Grace is drawn to the East, harbouring fond memories from her travels to China, Hong Kong, Japan and Taiwan.
Globetrotting turns attention to innumerable disgraced stars who squander their good fortune. This, Grace avers, is a farfetched possibility given the prudence they both exercise in their life.
“Eliud’s discipline also extends to his spending,” she explains.
We wouldn’t wind up our conversation before she spoke about what truly fulfills her. A staunch Catholic, she is passionate about philanthropy. Grace and Kipchoge have taken it upon themselves to provide food for athletes affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Grace is fervent about providing sanitary pads to girls in the hinterland who cannot afford them. With the help of a donor, she provides innovative sanitary pads reusable for at least five years. This, she says, will culminate in the setting up of the Eliud Kipchoge Foundation, with three goals mapped. Talent identification and development forms the core. Promoting a reading culture and access to education is the second element while the couple’s pet project of environmental conservation is the third. For a start, they have adopted 130 acres of the Kaptagat Forest and are supporting the water tower’s reforestation.
How would she want to be remembered: “I want to be remembered as the force behind the force,” she says.