Kenyan marathoner starts all-girls training camp

Kenyan distance runner Mary Ngugi, 33, shared that she often felt on high alert as she trained as a young athlete in Nyahururu, a town in the Southern Rift Valley in Kenya. Ngugi, who was third at Boston Marathon in 2022 and 2021, has created the Nala Track Club, the first all-girls training camp in Kenya. Young athletes at Nala Track Club will be guided and mentored by female coaches.

“We needed to give them a safe place where they can be themselves, where they can train without feeling they are in the shadow of men all the time,” she said in an interview with Ngugi explains that while she has some fond memories of camp, she knew other girls and women didn’t share her experience.

“I was lucky. I joined a camp that was really strict. I know about girls who got pregnant while we were in camp, but it’s the girls who were sent home,” she said. “The boys continued chasing their dreams.”

Young women athletes are also manipulated by agents and administrators, Ngugi shared, and explained that the athletes feel pressure to comply or be sent away. “Most of the athletes in Kenya, like me, we come from humble backgrounds, and you don’t want to go back there.”

In October 2021, Agnes Tirop, a talented 25-year-old distance runner who represented Kenya at the Tokyo Olympics, was murdered in her home. The ensuing shock and horror prompted athletes like Ngugi to use their voices to stand up for any athletes who are victims of gender-based violence.

Ngugi initially formed the Women’s Athletics Alliance, “to help the next generation avoid the suffering that so many female athletes have gone through.” She realized that more was needed to support young women athletes: “Women’s Athletics Alliance was more about empowering women, mentorship. And then we thought, it’s not just about mentorship, it’s not just about talking to these girls,” she added. We need to do something, give them a safe place.”

The Nala Track Club was born, and currently has five athletes ages 16 to 22 with the plan to expand to 12 runners. As well as supporting them in training, Ngugi’s camp pays for the athletes’ education and encourages them to attend school, noting that many young women who train at camps have to stop school, either because their camp doesn’t support their education or their parents cannot afford school fees.

“We also want to empower them to have a voice in society, not just in matters of athletics. When they are out there, they can communicate and speak out.” Ngugi is also working to encourage women coaches and mentors; collaborating with her former coach Francis Kamau, Athletics Kenya, and the UK-based Female Coaching Network to train female coaches in her home region.

While Ngugi’s short-term goal is to have female coaches work with the girls at the Nala Track club, she also wants to inspire her fellow athletes to consider coaching once retired from the sport.

“I want to be in an Olympic team with a few female coaches, not just male coaches. I don’t want the women to be in the teams as chaperones,” says Ngugi.


posted Monday November 28th
by Running Magazine