What you need to know:
- After beating her team mate in a tie-break at the national trials to win the high jump, budding athlete is determined to break new barriers in field events
- She picked up jumping in the unlikeliest of places. While herding goats in the fields,the animals would stray, forcing her to run after them in the rugged terrain in Barwesa. With time, she learnt to jump across deep gulleys and trenches left behind by severe soil erosion, and has qualified unbeaten to represent Kenya in two events - long jump and high jump - at next month’s World Athletics Under-20 Championships in Nairobi
Mark the name Zeddy Jesire. When stories of new stars who have risen through the ranks in Kenyan athletics is told, the young girl from Baringo County is sure to be up there with the best.
She has already done enough to capture the attention of Team Kenya selectors. During the July 1-3 Kenyan trials at Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani, she was selected to represent Kenya in the forthcoming World Athletics Under-20 Championships to be held in Nairobi from August 17- 22.
Born in 2003 in Ackonwonin village, the athlete from Barwesa in Baringo County won the high jump competition and secured a ticket in Team Kenya for the much awaited championship.
Last week, I and my colleagues Jared Nyataya, Steve Keter and Sharon Resian embarked on a 150-kilometre journey through difficult terrain to Barwesa in search of the talented youngster.
She warned us beforehand that the semi-arid area is currently experiencing hot weather and even if we made it, we would have to walk about two kilometres “because the road is in a bad state and no vehicle can get to our homestead.”
We arrived at Kampi Nyasi Shopping Centre at 8.30am from where Jesire met us. We then traversed what is easily one of the toughest terrains. After surviving a few deep gulleys and trenches, our vehicle could not take it any more. We pull up and abandoned it by the road side and embarked on a long trek through thickets, Jesire in the lead.
As we approach her home, we are welcomed by what could easily be a whole village. Among them are elders from the community and pastor of the local church, a clear testament that the local community is proud of her achievements. A well-fenced goat shed in the homestead points to the centrality of livestock in the lives of the locals.
Jesire picked up high jump and long jump in the unlikeliest of places. While herding goats in the fields, the animals would stray, forcing her to run after them in the rugged terrain. She learnt to jump across deep gulleys and trenches left behind after severe soil erosion. The gushing water from heavy rains in the highlands that would sometimes cause flooding in the semi-arid region.
At the national trials, she also qualified to represent Kenya in the long jump. Hers is not an isolated talent as there are star athletes in the neighbouring village for her to look up to.
The neighbouring village of Kuikui is home to former Boston Marathon and Chicago Marathon champion Lawrence Cherono. Further away, there is 1,500 metres specialist Charles Simotwo who will represent Kenya at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
At the national trials, Jesire beat teammate Dar-Ziv Nyah Jemeli in a tie-break to win after both had jumped 1.68 metres. She cleared all her jumps at 1.50m, 1.55m, 1.60m, 1.65 and at 1.68m respectively.
However, Jemeli had failed to jump 1.65m on her first attempt and only succeeding on her second attempt. That made her lose to Jesire.
“What helped me beat her is that I was the second athlete to attempt the jump. She failed in the last jump, I managed to clear the barrier and won. She has a better technique and I know she is a good athlete,” she tells us.
Jesire faced a lot of challenges during her upbringing and developed the high jump and long jump technique while jumping over thickets and across ditches while chasing goats in the Ackonwonin village, Barwessa.
After school, she would head straight to herd the goats and would continue jumping, something she still does.
She attended Likwon Primary School in Baringo from where she transferred to Chebugar Primary School. At Chebugar, her talent was identified by her teacher Samson Kosgey Kenda during primary schools national athletics championships.
Life was hard. As a young girl, she used to trek six kilometres to school while facing the threat of being attacked by elephants which would stray from the neighbouring Rimoy National Reserve in Elgeyo Marakwet County.
She later joined AIC Cheptonon High School in Nandi County where she developed her career under Kenda. To reach school in time, she would have to be at the bus station at the crack of dawn to catch the bus to Kabarnet.
She then joined Irish coach Bro Colm ‘O Connell’s camp during school holidays and this helped improve her performance.
“Joining Bro Colm’s camp during school holidays gave me more courage to improve on my jumping, and I would also participate in 400m races. He taught me how to be focused on my training and on academics as well,” says Jesire, who left the school at Form Four after scoring grade C minus in her Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education.
In 2018, she claimed bronze medal in the East Africa Secondary School Games in Rwanda.
It was her first international competition but she would claim silver in the championship a year later in Arusha, Tanzania. She later met coach Sammy Tanui from the Kenya Defence Forces who took her to train with KDF athletes in Ngong upon finishing her secondary school studies.
She reckons this gave her good exposure before the national trials.
She further learnt new and advanced jumping techniques via YouTube, and gained more skills from the internet.
Jesire, who is the fourth born in a family of six, says that athletics talent runs in the family. Most of her siblings are athletes. Her father Joel Chongwa, who also competed in high jump early on before abandoning the sport, is happy that one of his children is continuing the legacy.
“I used to jump well while in school but coming from a remote area, I didn’t go far. I’m happy with my daughter’s success. The future looks bright,” says Chongwa.
He mother, Mary Koima rejoices in her daughter’s achievements and hopes that one day, the young girl will make it big.
"I spotted Zeddy’s talent while she was in Class Eight during the primary schools national competitions. Later, I enrolled her in Form One at Cheptonon High School so I could continue nurturing her talent as well as allow her to pursue her academics,” her former teacher Kenda says.
“Since Form One, her personal efforts as well as mine saw her triumph from the zonal championships up to the East African championships. She is very disciplined and hard working. This far I have seen the fruits of hard work,” says Kenda.
Last week, Jesire was preparing to join Team Kenya athletes in bio-secure bubble training camp at Kasarani which started on Friday.
The excited villagers are sure to gather at the nearby shopping centre to follow the live transmission of the World Athletics Under-20 Championships which will be broadcast on NTV.