During a relationship spanning more than 12 years, Deborah had endured beatings from her husband but, in 2019, he nearly killed her.
The marathoner, who has done more than 20 races, was rescued and taken to hospital.
The brutal attack was a wake-up call for her. In December 2019, once healed, she went home to her parents and vowed never to return to her matrimonial home.
She lost all her investments, and her lover-turned-tormentor now wants her dead. To date, Deborah (not her real name), lives in fear. She fears the man could come for her and kill her.
“I wanted to have a good family and, with the hard work in training, I knew I would perform well and make sure I took good care of my family, but that was not to be, because I was beaten every time, and things became worse. And what I used to earn through races was being misused,” she recalls.
The talented athlete started her running career while in school. She dropped out of high school due to lack of fees and decided to venture into athletics full time.
She started running at track events and, with time, graduated to road races and marathon competitions. It was a good move, she says, because she won various races in Europe.
The earnings were good and, in 2007, she fell in love.
The couple started living together, and had two children.
Trouble started when she became pregnant with her first baby. She thought the constant fights were normal for families and that she just had to persevere because they would come to an end someday.
After two years, she got pregnant with her second-born child and things moved from bad to worse. She often fled to her parents’ home.
Infidelity and misuse of money were the major problems, and when she asked her husband about it, she would be beaten.
Every time she ran away, her parents would talk to her in-laws and they would settle things. She would then be told to go back to her matrimonial home.
One time, just before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, her husband went out, and when he came back in the evening, he started beating her.
She ran and spent the night in a maize plantation because it was too late to seek shelter elsewhere. When she returned home, her husband locked the doors to stop her from escaping. Then he beat her to an inch of her life.
She thought she was dying.
Her relatives got wind of what had happened and rushed her to hospital where she stayed for three months. When she was discharged from hospital, she went home to her parents and vowed never to go back to her abusive husband.
She left everything in her house, including the trophies and medals she won, and started life afresh.
She is happy that she moved out of that house before she was killed.
Her plea to young women who are still hanging on to abusive marriages is to either report to the relevant authorities or move out before it is too late.
“We have various athletes going through tough times and it is high time they moved out of those relationships fast, or they could even talk to concerned people so that they are safe. We don’t want to lose any other athletes like Agnes Tirop and Damaris Muthee, who died in a painful manner,” adds Deborah.
Investigations by the Nation found out that, apart from female athletes, some men too, are in abusive relationships, but do not open up for fear of becoming a laughing stock in their communities.
The women-only marathon world record holder, Ms Mary Keitany, asked athletes in abusive unions to move out and seek help immediately things become nasty.
She said many athletes are going through tough times and are suffering in silence, but the Tirop’s Angels Foundation had come to the rescue of many, and will be addressing gender-based violence issues immediately.
“We have realised that there is a big problem in terms of gender based violence, which affects everyone and our plea as the officials of the foundation is to ask those who are going through that to come out and seek help.”
“Most of them have a lot of fear, but for their own good, they need to seek help immediately,” says Ms Keitany.
She also challenged parents who send their young children to athletics training centres to always check on and support them to avoid a scenario where coaches and other athletes take advantage of them.
“That is where we get it wrong, from the word go. Youths have talents but parents must give them food and visit them regularly just to check on them and motivate them in training,” added Ms Keitany.