Gladys Ngure: Through hurdle sprinting, I got a permanent job

Gladys, or Gladoh as she is known in athletics circles, is a prison warder attached to Langata Women’s Prison in Nairobi.
Photo credit: Sila Kiplagat

What you need to know:

  • Gladys Muthoni Ngure is one of the top sprinting hurdlers in Kenya.
  • Gladys, or Gladoh as she is known in athletics circles, is a prison warder attached to Langata Women’s Prison in Nairobi.
  • The eighth-born from a family of nine went to Chaka Reli Primary School where she started her running career and continued sharpening her skills at Oljoro Orok Secondary School.
  •  She was a Games Assistant Captain in Form Two and was made captain in Form Three and Form Four.
  • The talented runner won a silver medal in 100 metres hurdles and bronze in 400 metres hurdles at the National Championships in 2023.
  • It is through athletics that she got a permanent job at Kenya Prisons Service.

Running seems to run in your family. Tell us about that…
I embraced athletics back in 2007 when I was in Class Five, inspired by my two sisters who were runners. One of them, Lucy Njoki, was a sprinter in primary school and the other, Susan Wambui, used to participate in road running in secondary school. My mum, Salome Wairimu, was also a 400m, 200m and 100m sprinter during her school days.

One of the funniest reasons I took up athletics was seeing athletes being given sodas and bread by teachers for participating in competitions. I also wanted the soda and loaves but to get that I needed to become an athlete. Another reason is that I like visiting new places. Since my dad could not afford to pay for my school trips, I joined sports to get a chance to go out of school.

My mum also motivated me because she used to participate in the Nyandarua County annual athletics. We competed together in 2010 and 2011 and won cash prizes and certificates. She used to finish first and me in position two or vice versa. I was also a quiet and timid girl, and she says she did that to help me overcome my fear.

There are so many sports you could have done...why athletics, and specifically hurdles?
Athletics was not the only sport I tried. I also participated in handball and football in secondary school. The reason I chose to concentrate on sprint hurdling is that I felt I had a good height (five feet nine inches) and could easily jump over the hurdles. Sprint hurdling also had very few participants because many were afraid of getting injured by the obstacles. I also saw greater potential of reaching the national competitions as a hurdler compared to participating in other track events which had more participants.

What challenges have you faced so far?
Sometimes you qualify with both the fastest time and first position, but you don’t get selected for major competitions. When you ask why, you are told that you are not experienced, so you have no choice but to keep training.

The other challenge is that when you talk casually with a male athlete, people start spreading baseless rumours that you are dating them.  I have also heard people claim that I am using dawa (banned substances). 

But you seem to be doing very well, why do you like the sport so much?
There are so many benefits to being in sports. One of them is that through athletics I secured a permanent job in the Kenya Prisons Service. I also got the chance to represent Kenya in the 2021 Summer World University Games in China. Athletics also helps me stay fit and healthy.

Who is your role model?
American hurdler Sydney McLaughlin. She is an Olympic and World champion and has a personal best time of 50.68 seconds which is also the world record. What I like about her is that she is humble and always dedicated to her work.

Tell us about your best and worst moments...
My highlight was when I improved my personal best time from 64.05 seconds to 59.24 seconds in Nairobi in February 2018. Getting improved times motivates me. The worst was when I qualified for the Commonwealth Games in 2018 and African Games in 2019, but I was not included in the national team. The explanation I got was that I was young and lacked experience. 

What is your big dream in athletics?
I hope to become a national record holder and to represent my country internationally. I dream of bringing victory and making Kenyans proud.

You are a mother of one...How do you balance motherhood and athletics?
Sometimes it can be very challenging. I have one child and I also take care of my sister’s child. Motherhood is fulfilling, but because of our work as athletes, we have to train almost daily. It then becomes very tricky when you have young children who need your attention.

For example, you can wake up one day ready to go for training and the maid tells you she is leaving or worse, you come from training and find she has already left. As a mother, your concentration level is always at 50-50 because your mind is also thinking about the baby at home. It gets worse when you receive a message that your baby is sick while you are in a training session.