What you need to know:
- Race winner Kiprop promises to visit Jepchirchir and reward her for cheering him on to victory at the Iten International Marathon.
- Nation Sport’ traces trending mother of nine at her home in Kapsisi in Kapteren along Nyaru-Iten road.
During Sunday’s Iten International Marathon in Elgeyo Marakwet County, one woman caught the attention of many after she was caught on camera by Nation Sport photographer Jared Nyataya running alongside the eventual men’s winner Luka Kiprop. In sync!
As athletes braced the fog and chilly weather, Pastor Elizabeth Jepchirchir Kiprono of the Christian Church Family Kapteren in Elgeyo Marakwet County, waited eagerly for the leading pack along the road.
A sequence of photographs showing her enthusiastically cheering on Kiprop caught the eye of athletics fans, with many seeking to know who she was.
“I am Daniel Ruto from Kapenguria, a Daily Nation reader. Following a picture that caught my attention which was published at the back page of Daily Nation on Monday 13th November showing the athlete Luka Kiprop being cheered by a serious lady at Kapteren-Iten road, I am very humbled to request Mr Luka to look for this lady and at least give her a token of appreciation because her cheering seem to come from the bottom of her heart,” a Nation Sport reader wrote to our sports desk.
“Please, I request you as Daily Nation to bring this idea to (the) limelight.”
And indeed, Nation Sport eventually traced the now trending fan at her home in Kapsisi in Kapteren along the Nyaru-Iten road. As we enter into the compound, Jepchirchir wondered who the visitors were on the chilly morning that was accompanied by some showers.
As we settled down for the interview, she wasn’t aware that she had been captured by our photographer and her pictures were trending on social media.
She wasn’t also aware that the athlete she was encouraging to keep up the pace — after she abandoned her usual job as a Sunday School teacher to cheer the athletes — eventually won the race.
“I even didn’t know who won the race because I don’t have a television set… I was just encouraging them to do their best because that is the talent God has blessed them with,” she reacted.
“I’m happy to learn from you that the young man eventually bagged victory!” exclaimed Jepchirchir.
But what motivated her to run alongside Kiprop and encourage him to go for victory?
Well, Jepchirchir was an athlete in her youth and featured in the sprints up to national level.
She said that when she heard that the route had been earmarked for the race, she initially wanted to cheer the women’s marathoners.
“My target was to encourage the women athletes but when I got to the road, they had already passed and I waited for the men and when I saw the leader ahead of the others, I was overwhelmed and that is why I followed him.
“I don’t even know him, but I was just cheering him on and made him aware that we were supporting him as fans to go for glory. I told him not to lose hope but go for the prize,” said Jepchirchir who married to Pastor Wilson Kipkosgei Kapkiyai.
Jepchirchir used to run while in Kapsisi Primary School in the neighborhood and after failing to realise her dreams, she decided to continue encouraging and praying for the youth, including her children, who are athletes.
She would sometimes accompany women during their morning training and would always encourage them to work hard and gave them her blessings.
“It’s always my joy seeing the athletes training along the road every day though I can’t watch them competing, I will only hear that so and so won the race because I don’t have television set to follow up on them and that is my joy,” Jepchirchir added.
Her second born son is Mathew Kipruto is a long distance athlete and has been training in Iten individually, though he lacks basic training facilities and support.
Ezrah Kiprono Kosgei, Jepchirchir’s fifth born and a form three student at the St Francis Kimuron High School in Elgeyo Marakwet County, is also an athlete who has specialized in the 5,000 and 10,000 metres races.
Alfred Kigen, her first born, used to compete while in school in the 10,000m up to the national level but he couldn’t pursue the athletics career due to lack of support.
The mother of nine children said that her joy is to see her children take the mantle from where she left, but lack of support and training facilities has been a challenge for them.
Race winner Kiprop, who has been residing with his coach Erick Kogo, told Nation Sport he just saw someone cheering him and running alongside him but couldn’t hear what she was saying.
“You know at the 35km mark, the body starts to take toll on you and it was at this point that I saw a woman, whom I presume was encouraging me to push harder and not to allow anyone to go past me.
“I don’t know her but I think it’s someone who loves athletics,” said Kiprop, nicknamed “wasiwasi” by his peers.
Kiprop started his running career in 2019 and joined a camp in Iten which was later closed before he met Kogo who gave him support up to date.
On Sunday, he borrowed his training mate — World 10,000m silver medalist Daniel Simiu —running shoes and went on to win his first ever marathon.
He promised that one day, he will visit Jepchirchir and reward her for cheering him on.