Tegla Loroupe was considered the fastest woman in the world over long distances at the end of the 90s. Today, the marathon legend brings peace through sports – especially in her home country Kenya.
In an interview with ISPO Munich, Eva Doll dived deep into understanding Loroupe’s efforts for the orphans and refugees as well as the key role played by sports throughout this process.
Like many children, Loroupe grew up in her home, the highland region of Pokot in western Kenya. In her family of 24 sibling, there was rarely enough food for all of them. Field work and fast barefoot sprints while herding cattle were her childhood routine. Nevertheless, she experienced a spectacular running career, where she held the marathon world record from 1998 to 2001. She still owns the world record for the 20km, 25km, 30km and is still currently the triple world champion record holder in half marathon.
She is also the first woman from Africa to win the New York City Marathon, and had conquered marathons in London, Rotterdam, Hong Kong, Berlin and Rome. Today she is committed to build peace in her homeland.
In the interview with ISPO.com, she talked about sports and peace, the “Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation”, the Peace Races and the Refugee Team of the Olympic Games 2020 which will accompany her to Tokyo as “Chef de Mission”.
Peace through sports is your mission. What special power do they see in sports?
Tegla Loroupe: Sports are boundless. At sporting events, people open up. This is a unique thing! Sports connect people worldwide regardless of race, religion, tribes or gender. To experience the power with which sports can create peace… [it] is indescribable.
In 2003, the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation (TLPF) was established. What is the role of the foundation and what are its current projects?
Tegla Loroupe: The foundation aims to bring peace and just to this world, in which sports become the unifying factor. It also aims to provide a livelihood for people affected by conflicts and civil wars. Our goal: a peaceful coexistence of warring communities in Northern Kenya, Southern Sudan, Northeastern Uganda, Ethiopia and other volatile areas of the African region.
Within the TLPF, we rely on three pillars: First, peace building and conflict mitigation through projects such as the Tegla Loroupe Peace Race or the rehabilitation program for reformed warriors, young fighters who have laid down their weapons. Secondly, to education for peace in our Education and Peace Centre for orphans and vulnerable girls. And at the Tegla Loroupe Sports and Training Centre, the third pillar, we support talented refugees. Competitive sport and appropriate support for the best are the top priority.
The School of Peace, founded in 2012, offers children access to sports in addition to protection and education. How is the school structured and what are the necessary steps?
Tegla Loroupe: The “Tegla Loroupe Education and Peace” School (TLE&PC) opened in January 2012 in Siyoi – Kapenguria, West Pokot. We currently have 460 students and we are still in the process of building up. The aim is to use the capacity of 1,000 pupils in the boarding school. The children should live in a loving environment where they learn to accept each other: with mutual respect, understanding and “sportsmanship”. The curriculum includes peace education in addition to the classical subjects.
Education is essential for progress. Nelson Mandela once said: “Education is the best tool that can be used to change the world.” In the long term, the centre is also intended to become a training centre for talented young people who wants to pursue a career in professional sport.
Sports can and should also become an economic way out for some privileged children – with far-reaching positive consequences for their lives, their families and the religion.
Another sporty component of the TLPF: The “Peace Race”, a 10-kilometer distance run, which has been held annually in Kenya since 2001. Not only long-distance elite runners are invited, but also warriors of rival African tribes. How can we imagine the races?
Tegla Loroupe: Let me tell you how it happened: In 2003, I was invited as a guest runner to a peace race in Bali, Indonesia. At that time, there was a political unrest in the country. The government wanted to use the run to restore confidence in the country and its people. I was seized by the emerging positive dynamics during the run, the energy and the joy of the people: Muslims, Buddhists, Christians – all got along with each other. I decided to organise a Peace Race for my home region, Pokot, Kenya.
The first Tegla Loroupe Peace Race took place in Kapenguria, Pokot in autumn 2003. In my country, livestock farming is the livelihood of many African tribes. But animals, pasture land, water and alternative perspectives are scarce. The result: armed herders, cattle robbery and fierce fighting broke out among the tribes of the region. I saw sport as a peacemaking and economic perspective.
The atmosphere that arose during the race was similar to that in Indonesia: warriors of hostile tribes ran together, began to cheer for each other – and to embrace at the finish [line]. People who until then had only met on battlefields talked to each other and learned to appreciate each other.
What changes did the Peace Race brings about the in the region?
Tegla Loroupe: Within three years, there were almost no more deaths in the region around Kapenguria. We were able to help two of Kenya’s most wanted warriors, whose rivalries had claimed many victims, lay down their weapons. The warrior “Matanda” did not only participated in our rehabilitation program, he is now the also the chairman.
Over the years, tribal interaction has improved. Negative attitudes, stereotypes and tensions have reduced. Platforms for advocacy and voluntary surrender of firearms have been established, and at the same time, the race highlighted sports as a vital perspective and factor to unify.
Original Article: Eva Doll of ISPO Munich