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When the sun sets today, First Lady Margaret Kenyatta is expected to have accomplished a lifetime feat of conquering the London Marathon circuit and being the first ever First Lady to do so.
It’s a culmination of two months of get-ready-for it that has thrust the erstwhile publicity-shy Mrs Kenyatta into the news at home and around the world.
Despite her family’s high profile, Mrs Kenyatta has succeeded in keeping away from the prodding public eye, preferring to lead a quiet, reserved and behind-the-scenes life away from the glare of cameras and insatiable curiosity of prying journalists.
But it was never going to be easy to maintain such privacy for long — not when she is the daughter-in-law of Kenya’s founding President and wife of the country’s fourth President.It would also not have gone entirely under wraps when she elected to take up marathon running for the sake of giving Kenya’s beleaguered medical system a shot in the arm.
Mrs Kenyatta now thrusts herself into full global glare from 10.30a.m. (Kenyan time) when she lines up at London’s famous Greenwich Park at the start of the 42.195km London Marathon in which she is running to raise funds for her “Beyond Zero” campaign that seeks to eliminate preventable maternal and early childhood deaths.
As time goes by, Kenyans are getting to know their First Lady, an alumnus of Nairobi’s prestigious Kianda School, who has passionately taken to raising funds for the purchase of 47 mobile clinics to augment the country’s over-stretched, bed-ridden healthcare infrastructure.
Mrs Kenyatta arrived in London last Tuesday morning. Shortly after that, the world knew she was celebrating her 50th birthday, joined by her mother-in-law, Kenya’s first First Lady Mama Ngina Kenyatta, for her landmark birthday bash on the sidelines of final training for today’s epic race.
The surprise golden jubilee birthday party came weeks after another family surprise that saw her husband, President Uhuru Kenyatta, show up at Nairobi’s Uhuru Gardens to hug the First Lady after she completed a half marathon to raise funds for the “Beyond Zero” initiative, last month.
Images of the presidential hug went viral with many also commenting on Mr Kenyatta’s casual dressing and easy manner. “The unexpected reception from my husband, His Excellency the President, with open arms is something I will never forget,” Mrs Kenyatta — the mother of two sons, Jomo and Jaba, and a daughter, Ngina — told Lifestyle during her pre-London Marathon training camp in Iten. She added that her family has been a great encouragement, especially whenever she is low and tired.
“They have given me words of encouragement and also rallied their friends and colleagues to support the ‘Beyond Zero’ campaign in their own individual capacities,” she said.Indeed, one family member who has been on Mrs Kenyatta’s side throughout her belated, fledgling but high-profile athletics venture is her sister-in-law Nyokabi Muthama, President Kenyatta’s sister.
Along with the First Lady’s Chief of Staff Constance Gakonyo and Mrs Florence Awori, who is in charge of projects in the First Lady’s office, they have trained together every inch of the way.
The three will be part of Mrs Kenyatta’s eight-strong team that will be on the starting line at Greenwich Park, hoping to be at The Mall finish in less than seven hours, with Mama Ngina Kenyatta watching from the sidelines.
Others in the running team are head coach and athletics legend Douglas Wakiihuri, physiotherapist Japheth Kariakim and two members of the First Lady’s security team.
“I’m not as fast as the (Kenyan) elite stars, and neither will I be on the podium as my aim is to complete the 42-kilometre race. As for my time targets, we shall see on Sunday (today),” Mrs Kenyatta said at a reception on Thursday where the Standard Chartered Group, through its chairman Sir John Peace and UK chief executive Richard Holmes, made a contribution to the “Beyond Zero” kitty.
She said her team had gauged their fitness and endurance during the inaugural First Lady’s Half Marathon in Nairobi, where at least 30,000 people were thought to have participated.
“We finished this race in a record time of three hours and 40 minutes and we intend to build on this time and go all the way hoping that it will also be a lucky 13th day of April with glorious sunshine and no rain,” she said in reference to the famous London race.
Mrs Kenyatta’s technical team is no different from that of Kenya’s elite marathon runners with Mr Wakiihuri, the country’s first ever London Marathon winner and 1987 World marathon champion, as head coach.
“I would never have expected this opportunity (coaching the First Lady),” said Wakiihuri who honed his marathon skills in Japan, inspired by the country’s 1986 London Marathon champion, Toshihiko Seko, and training under the wings of marathon “sensei” Koyishi Nakamura.
The legendary athlete started his VIP coaching sessions on the well-manicured lawns of State House, Nairobi, with President Kenyatta watching from the balcony.
Mr Japheth Kariakim, Team Kenya’s lead physiotherapist at last year’s IAAF World Athletics Championships in Moscow, is part of the First Lady’s medical team that is headed by Dr Amos Nderitu.
“The training has been tough. Sometimes the muscle aches and there are pains all over the body. And thinking that you have to wake up every morning to repeat the same rigorous routine would make me feel like giving up,” Mrs Kenyatta said before her departure to London last Monday.
She admitted she did not realise how tough it was all going to be.
“But I also didn’t imagine just how rewarding it would be to set goals and achieve them. So we have kept pushing ourselves miles out of our comfort zones for the sake of our mothers and children,” she said.
Dr Nderitu reported several injuries in the First Lady’s contingent during training in Kenya, mainly musculoskeletal (affecting bones), muscles, ligaments, tendons and nerves.
“The main injuries were to the iliotibial band (knee), hamstrings, quadriceps, plantar fascia, calf and Achilles tendon. The injuries involved strained and tense muscles but they were quickly dealt with, and with minimal medication,” explained Mr Maina Kigaga of the First Lady’s press team.
Indeed, the entire training regime has added value by offering invaluable lessons in biology to Mrs Kenyatta and her team.
“She learnt a lot about muscles, their origin and insertion and how the injuries occur, that is mechanisms of injury and the management of these injuries which includes basically warm-up, warm-down, stretching and physiotherapy, or muscle manipulation,” he said.
The team would up their preparations with light training at Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens in central London with Wakiihuri cautious that over-training could have its negative effects.
“It’s a bit cold for us with mornings as low as seven degrees rising to about 16 degrees centigrade, so we have to take it easy to avoid injuries or catching the cold,” said Mr Wakiihuri.
Besides Mrs Kenyatta, other prominent personalities running for charity in London today include Sheikh Fahad bin Abdullah Al Thani, a horse racing enthusiast and first cousin of the Emir of Qatar who will be running for the equestrian charity “Racing Welfare”.
Also in the mix are several actors and actresses, television and radio talk show hosts, DJs, comedians, top chefs and retired sporting legends.
“She has taken on her (First Lady’s) role actively and has been received warmly by the Kenyan public with love and warmth,” Virgin London Marathon organisers describe Mrs Kenyatta’s entry to the fund-raising front this weekend.
“She espouses strong family values, hard work and integrity,” the organisers add, listing Mrs Kenyatta’s cut-off time as seven hours.
Also look out for one other interesting debutant in the marathon, former England, Manchester United, Liverpool and Newcastle football star Michael Owen who is targeting to run the course inside four hours in support of three charities — Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital and Prostate Cancer UK.
BBC television journalist Stephen Sucker, well known for hosting the no-holds-barred HARDtalk show, is running for “Just a drop”, a charity that helps marginalised communities the world over get access to clean water.
“We shall seek to leverage on this international event which provides a global platform to raise visibility for maternal and child health issues and mobilise resources for our noble cause,” said Mrs Kenyatta who ran with her children in last month’s First Lady’s Half Marathon in Nairobi.
“For us, the London Marathon is not about setting records. Rather, it is about raising awareness and, more importantly, funds for the cause of mothers, newborn babies and children.”
Kenyans will most certainly follow Mrs Kenyatta’s progress today with keen interest, both to see if she will break the seven-hour barrier for the 42.195 kilometres, and also to find out how much she will manage to raise for her pet project.
– Daily Nation