Written by Linda Musita
Two athletes, Mary Nakhumitsa and Abdelkader Benali sat with the British High Commissioner to Kenya and discussed their triumphs on and off the track. Nakhumitsa is a paralympics champion. The twenty year record holder in javelin, short put and throwing the discus is very proud of her achievements and on Saturday, she wore her 30 medals around her neck. She has won 12 gold medals, 11 silver medals and 6 bronze medals. She also received an OGW Award from former president Moi and she prides herself in being the only paralympic champion in East Africa. Nakhumitsa got into sports when she was ten years old, with the help and encouragement of her father who is her trainer/coach to date.
She talked about disabled people and how sports makes them stronger. However, she conveyed her worries about the others who cannot do sport. They are educated, they have good grades and good papers, but no one will hire them. This, according to Mary, affects them emotionally and she sees it as a form of discrimination that should be snipped at its base.
Benali pointed out that in the athletics world there is no such thing as ‘abled’ or ‘disabled’. All of them have respect for each other and as human beings they are aware that they all have weaknesses. They all strive and struggle to fight and overcome these weaknesses. They all train rigorously and share the same ‘setbacks and problems’ experiences. “The more disadvantages you have, the further you go in life because you know that you have no choice but to overcome them,” he added.
Abdelkader Benali was born in a remote village in Morocco, a place where electricity and the luxuries of the city were non existent. When he was four years old, his family moved to Netherlands. It was a different world where everyone seemed perfect. He did not feel at home at first. Fitting in was a problem. He spoke of a time in school when the students in his class ‘reminded’ him that he was from Morocco and asked if he was going back home soon. “I told them, no, I am here to stay.” One day he was watching Tv, still in that state of feeling out of place and without purpose, on screen an athletics race was about to start. “Skinny, almost half naked men” were lined up and the commentator mentioned that one of the runners, a Moroccan, was definitely going to win the race. He, Benali, thought that that could be him as well and as the running began he felt like he was running with the other Moroccan and his connection to Africa was resurrected. For the first time in his life, he had a hero. Later he went and bought running shoes, that did not fit and his reaction to the pinch of the shoes was, “Oh wow! Running shoes hurt!”
The marathoner said that over the years he has developed great respect for Kenyan runners. His sense of humor kicks in again when he explains how Kenyan runners are either training or sleeping. It is always one or the other. If they are not training they are sleeping, even on a twenty minute bus ride. The sleeping, it turns out, rejuvinates and rests the body. He also commended them on their attitude. “With Kenyan athletes, it doesn’t matter how hot or cold the waether is, they will run,” Benali said, “They refer to the tracks in Europe as Persian tapestry compared to the terrain they run in Kenya.” Nakhumitsa chipped in that the success of the Kenyan athletete is atrributed to discipline, training and rest. “They wake up at 5am and start training, rest and then go back to train “.
When Mary is not training, she is relaxing in bed. Benali loves to cook, read and watch football when he is not training or writing. His advice to athletes, “Work hard, rest hard.” Benali is a leadning novelist whose recent work incluses The Museum of Loved Ones.
“Learn how to sleep like an African.”