Athlete's tale on horrors of living in a violent marriage

Domestic violence

In Kenya, over 40 per cent of women are likely to face SGBV during their lifetime.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Her striking smile can easily fool you into believing that she is living her best life. We soon find out that a lot of pain lies behind it.
  • She had confronted her boyfriend about a relationship with another woman and he started beating her mercilessly.

On a chilly, drizzly Monday evening, we arrive at a female athlete’s home in Iten, Elgeyo Marakwet County, after she finally agreed to an interview. It took a lot of persuasion to get her to tell her story.

Her house, overlooking the idyllic Kerio Valley, is decorated with medals she won in races abroad, neatly arranged in one corner.

Her striking smile can easily fool you into believing that she has the best of a successful athlete’s life. We soon find out that a lot of pain lies behind the smile.

The athlete in her thirties, whom we will call Sarah to protect her identity, opened up about the suffering she and many of her colleagues have endured after falling into the wrong hands.

Many men who prey on them come in the name of offering help and, before they know it, they are entangled with beasts who oppress them.

In Sarah’s case, she lost her baby after she was physically abused by her partner, whom she had met in 2015.

He had rained kicks and blows on her when she was a few months pregnant, resulting in a complicated pregnancy.

She had visited a hospital, where the foetus was found to be dead and she had to undergo an operation to save her life.

The issue was infidelity. She had confronted her boyfriend about a relationship with another woman, which he denied, and then he started beating her mercilessly. She says he had threatened to kill her.

She adds that some of her male colleagues also suffer gender-based violence.

“Many of them are just persevering because they don’t want to be shamed by the community,” she said.

Sarah’s track career has been rising steadily, and the violence in her home with her partner is the only setback in a fulfilled life.

She had left her home for Iten after completing secondary school. She would compete in local races and soon discovered that she could do well on international tracks.

“I loved athletics and, after finishing my high school education, I decided to move to this town for training. It is here that I met a group of athletes and we started training together in 2016,” she said.

Many of the athletes come from poor backgrounds, she said. But with good talent developed in the right way, many have always emerged successful.

It was while training that Sarah met the man, who confessed he had fallen in love with her and wanted her to move in with him immediately.

She resisted for a while but gave in and they started living together as a couple.

Within no time, she became pregnant. During that period, she used part of her savings to build a house for them so that they could have a place to call home.

Back at home, her family and relatives were not aware that she was married. It is only after all hell broke loose that she decided to go back home in 2020 and tell her parents what she had gone through.

They had welcomed her back and she took time to recover before she started her training again. At one point, her former lover threatened to kill her if she ever got into a relationship with another man, and this worries Sarah to this day.

She fears starting another relationship because her former boyfriend has been monitoring her moves in her new training base.

She is training and is happy her body is responding well, and she looks forward to a good season even as she recovers from the shock.

Sarah urges women in abusive marriages to leave immediately and look for help so that the perpetrators can be punished.

Sports professionals should live like brothers and sisters and be ready to share their problems with the concerned bodies, said Athletics Kenya (AK) President Jack Tuwei in his address to runners during the recent AK Track and Field Championships at Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani.

“We are losing athletes in a manner that is not acceptable and it should stop,” Mr Tuwei said.

Hundreds of athletes recently took to the streets of Iten to protest against rising cases of gender-based violence affecting sporting stars.

The demonstrations followed the discovery of the decomposing body of Kenyan-Bahraini born athlete Damaris Muthee at a rental house in Lilies Estate, Iten.

Her body lay on a bed, with a pillow on her face, and did not have any physical injuries. Her alleged Ethiopian lover, now a fugitive identified as Eskinder Hailemariam, is the prime suspect.

The cause of death was general strangulation resulting in asphyxiation and eventual death, said Keiyo North Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) detective Andalo Munga.

The DCI has sought help from Interpol and the Foreign Affairs ministry to help track down the fugitive.

Following the incident, local and foreign athletes accused the government and Athletics Kenya of slow response to issues affecting them.

Led by four-time New York marathon champion Mary Keitany, 2021 York marathon first runner-up Violah Lagat and Kenyan-born Romanian athlete and Seoul marathon champion Joan Chelimo and others, they walked the streets of Iten, chanting slogans.

They called for strict laws and the establishment of gender-based violence outreach offices in counties.

“It is saddening that athletes are congregating, not to celebrate their exploits in field and track events, but to mourn a colleague,” Ms Keitany said. Seminars should be rolled out to help spread awareness on gender-based violence fices in counties.

“It is saddening that athletes are congregating, not to celebrate their exploits in field and track events, but to mourn a colleague,” Ms Keitany said. Seminars should be rolled out to help spread awareness on gender-based violence among athletes.

Ms Lagat said lack of strict laws against perpetrators of gender-based violence has allowed the vice go on unabated.

Recalling the killing of two-time world 10,000 metres bronze medallist Agnes Tirop in October last year, Ms Lagat said stakeholders had asked for psychosocial support for athletes.

“Athletes have been suffering for ages and no one has been bothering. We should not be used to knee-jerk reactions that each time there is a killing we come out. We should be close to the athletes and be mindful of their welfare because they are suffering in silence,” she said.

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