12 August 2016

Chekwel takes to track in quest for Olympic dream

Never did Juliet Chekwel’s father ever envision her as a professional runner. His wish for her was to study and secure a decent office job.

Chekwel though harboured a different dream as a child. All she wanted was to board a plane and travel the world as a runner. “My dad never wanted me to run. After I joined secondary school, he told me to stop running and concentrate on my studies,” Chekwel, set to be Uganda’s first athletics competitor at the Rio Olympics, recalled.

The 26-year-old, featuring at this level for the first time, will run the 10,000m final at the Olympic Stadium this evening and return for the 5,000m next week.

Her athletics journey started at Kapchesambe Primary School in Kapchorwa District where she ruled middle distance races.

Because of her outstanding performances, Berkley High School in Kampala offered her a sports bursary to join Senior One in 2005.
Even though he wasn’t going to pay school fees because of Chekwel’s talent, Victor Chemonges Musobo wanted her daughter to concentrate more on studies than running.

“One of my teachers went to my dad and convinced him to let me run. He told him I had great talent. But my father still wanted me to do well in class. Whenever I performed badly at the end of the term, I would go back home worried.”

She tried to balance studies with sports and performed decently while also ensuring to avoid the distractions that came with city life.

In 2008, athletics enthusiast Godfrey Nuwagaba, who manages Olympic marathon champion Stephen Kiprotich, invited her to train in his Standard Athletics Camp in Bukwo and its there that she realised she needed to work harder.

After months of hard work, Chekwel earned her first national team call-up to represent Uganda at the East Africa Youth Championships in Moshi, Tanzania.
“That was my first journey outside Uganda. We travelled by bus and it was so tiring but I enjoyed it,” she recalled.

Narrow misses
She finished third over 1,500m and earned a ticket to the 2008 Youth Commonwealth Games in Beijing, China. She doesn’t remember a more exciting time in her career than the Beijing journey.

“After qualifying, I couldn’t wait for the departure day. I was very excited and all my friends in the village were always talking about me. They would come and ask me how I felt before I left,” she reminisced.

In Beijing, she narrowly missed out on a medal after finishing fourth in 1,500m. After completing Senior Four, she decided to quit school and put more hours in training. Her father was so bitter his first born was abandoning studies.

However, her mother Justine Musobo, having been a runner before, sided with her daughter. Her uncle Juma Mash, another former athlete, was also supportive.

“My uncle was like an advisor. There is a time I got injured and he was always by my side. He also advised me on what to eat and drink,” he says of Juma, now a security guard in Kapchorwa town.

A conversation with Chekwel will leave you wishing she had continued with school.


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