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‘I am just an ordinary policewoman’

For most women, if they were in PAMELA JELIMO’S position, they would visit the most luxurious spa for first-class beauty care and spot the latest trend. But the down-to-earth top athlete would rather be in her farm, writes OSCAR PILIPILI

What does athletics mean to you?

It means a lot to me. First, it is a God-given talent that gives me personal fulfilment and helps me achieve my goals. Athletics has helped me to alleviate poverty in my community and empower disadvantaged athletes.

Who inspired you to be an athlete?

My fellow outstanding athletes like Paul Tergat, Haile Gebreselassie and Catherine Ndereba. I used to watch them on TV when I was a little girl and I desired to be like them. I started to run to and from school to emulate these international stars and with time I developed a lot of interest in the sport. Since it was mandatory that every student be involved in at least one sport, I settled on athletics and my heart has remained there to date.

What do you do when not running or training?

I’m a just an ordinary policewoman. So when I am off the track, I am busy at my workstation.

If I am not at work, I love to spend time with my family who are a great support.

I also love farming. I have a dairy and maize farm where I spend most of my free time when off the track.

For close to three years you went underground then you busted back into the limelight with victory in world indoor championships in Istanbul. Why the hiatus?

It was a time of healing and reflection for me. You see, at that time I had sustained a series of injuries that kept me out of action.

I didn’t want my fans to know this because it would have been a disappointed to them. I went through a silent recovery programme that lasted longer than I expected. I was struggling with a serious knee injury when I travelled to India for Commonwealth Games and 2009 Berlin World Championships where I didn’t perform well.

Athletics requires consistent training and hard work. You cannot expect to be in poor shape and enter the track and beat opponents who have been training round the clock. But thank God I’m back on the track and I am hoping I will not suffer such setbacks.

Did you expect to win in Istanbul?

The victory came as a surprise especially after finishing second in heat one. I was elated when I qualified for the final and wondered how it would be like.

With the faith I had in myself and encouragement from fans I went for the gold.

I ran as if all Kenyans were behind me and thank God I won.

South Africa’s Caster Semenya was a thorn for you. What’s your take on her?

Semenya and I are professional friends. There was no war between us. People should understand that in athletics, the best athlete is the one who wins the race.

In Berlin World Championships Semenya took the crown because I was not in form but I believe she was in great shape. Nothing personal. But I have promised myself to work hard to win future competitions.

Kapsabet region is endowed with athletic talent, what favours their rapid development?

Role models play a big role in this. You see the aspiring athletes see what the stars bring home and they are inspired by this.

We’ve runners like Kipchoge Keino, Wilfred Bungei, Wilson Kipketer (now Danish citizen), Bernard Lagat (American), Janeth Jepkosgei and of course myself who motivate upcoming runners to concentrate on athletics as their sport of choice.

The role models have shown the upcoming athletes that this sport can dramatically change the economic status of a community.

Which event is the most memorable in your athletics career?

I have both positive and negative experiences. The day I failed to win Berlin World Championships remains the worst memory in my life. I went to the Championships when I was not physically fit and this dashed my dream of becoming a world champion.

It was embarrassing and the performance haunted me for long.

The World Championships feat was my third straight defeat after Morocco and USA Grand Prix. I felt like it was a big let down to my fans but I want to assure them I’m working hard to regain my form.

My big moment came recently when I won the Indoor World Championships in Istanbul. This was my comeback moment.

Tell us about your family?

I’m a third born in a family of ten. It’s a close-knit family where we love and help one another.

I owe my mother a lot because she brought us up from her meagre resources and ensured that we all went to school. I’m married to a fellow athlete Peter Murrey but we have no children yet.

What’s your fashion code?

I am modest when it comes to dressing. I like to dress depending on the occasion. When I am on the track, I love to wear sports wear and when on official duty I put on police uniform. In short, I love to keep it neat and simple.

As a celebrated athlete, do you attract special attention from colleagues or members of the public?

I am just an ordinary policewoman and a Kenyan. So I do not expect members of the public to treat me differently because of my achievements. When I am at work, I am assigned responsibilities just like the rest and I deliver. I wear police uniform like my fellow colleagues and it is business as usual.

My workmates show me respect but they do not treat me in any special way from the rest and I’m okay with that.

How do you balance athletics, family and work?

My family understands that athletics requires a lot of time and they offer me the necessary support. When I am at the training centre, they often call me to find out how I’m progressing and always encourage me to work hard. At my place of work, bosses also understand that I require time to train and they offer me the support I need. I value my work because I know my athletics career will at one time come to an end and I will need a fallback plan.

Do have any youth mentorship programmes?

Yes. I train a number of athletes among them Milkah Chepkoech (800m), Daniel Sirma (marathon) and Felix Moli (road race).

I find satisfaction when I train and mentor young promising athletes.