A Way To Get Around
Born and raised on a farm in rural Kapenguria, Kenya, near the Ugandan border in 1973, Loroupe first began running because it was the quickest way to get where she wanted to go. She began her day with a six-mile sprint to school, burdened by her heavy backpack, the hills that stood between her and the schoolhouse, and the oxygen-poor air that starved her lungs as she ran in such high elevation. But Loroupe ran, nonetheless, knowing that late students were punished with a beating. Twice weekly after school, she put in another dozen miles while herding cattle for her parents. No matter what the terrain, Laroupe ran barefoot; shoes were a luxury. While most of her friends ran equally as much as Loroupe, school races showed her by age nine that she had a natural talent for running. Excelling at all but the 800-meter sprint indicated that Loroupe was a distance runner; it also indicated a path by which she could avoid the traditional future of a girl of her tribe: marriage, children, and housekeeping. Fortunately for Loroupe her father also saw her potential and he agreed to let her attend a private boarding school and run as long as she kept up her grades.
From the beginning, Loroupe's ambition to be a professional runner came as much from her love of running as it did from her desire to escape the life of most Kenyan women. Her enthusiasm for her sport has been obvious to any who meet her, and her energy and optimism remain contagious. Eschewing rigid training programs and stringent nutrition and sleep schedules, she runs frequently because it is what she wants to do. Working with coach Volker Werner from her training base in Detmold, Germany, four months out of the year, Loroupe developed a flexible schedule that includes runs of between seven and nine miles twice daily along with weekly interval training at the track as a way to build the muscles needed for speed and sprinting. Enjoying covering long distances, Loroupe especially welcomed the weekly long runs required for marathon training, and her enjoyment paid off: in her first high-profile attempt at racing the 10,000 meters (10K) at the 1993 World Track and Field Championships, she finished fourth in a crowded field.
In November of 1994 the 21-year-old Loroupe ran her first major race: the New York City Marathon. Winning the race in 2 hours, 27 minutes and 37 seconds, she became the first African woman to win a major marathon, the youngest winner, and the first black women ever to win in New York. While Loroupe received accolades from the media, her parents back in Kenya were also honored; Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi presented her father and mother with enough livestock to make the family wealthy within the Pokot tribe. Loroupe's success also inspired others in her tribe to begin running, and with her winnings she provided track shoes to promising young female Pokot athletes.
In early 1995, confident after her performance in New York the previous November, the young Kenyan decided to tackle the most historic marathon of them all: April's Boston Marathon. Loroupe met her match in the challenging and hilly course and came in ninth in a field of women led by German long-distance phenomenon Uta Pippig, who had set the Boston course record of 2:21:45 only the year before. Undaunted by her performance at Boston, she continued racing and won the bronze medal for a 31:17 10K run at the World Track and Field Championships in Goteborg, Sweden.
In November of 1995 she returned to New York and repeated her previous performance, clocking a winning time in her 26.2-mile tour through the city's five boroughs. Loroupe's win was particularly inspiring considering the personal tragedy she was coping with: she ran the marathon only 14 days after the untimely death of her older and much-loved sister, Albina. Shortly after crossing the finish line, Loroupe collapsed to the ground, sobbing.
Her winning performance in New York in 1995 qualified Loroupe for the 1996 Olympic Games to be held in Atlanta, Georgia, the following year. Placing in the top three during the Olympic trials, she qualified for the team but placed a disappointing sixth in the 10K, her time only 31:23. Unruffled by her performance, Loroupe had another go at the Boston Marathon in April of 1996, this time finishing in second place behind Belgian runner L. Siegers. She returned to New York for her third attempt at the November marathon, confident that her training would propel her to a third win in 1996.
With two appearances in the Big Apple behind her, Loroupe was by now a favorite of New York crowds, and she showed her fans a confident start at the gun. However, she soon slowed, hampered by pain that was later diagnosed as the result of stress fractures in her spine. Finishing a lackluster seventh with 2:32:07, Loroupe followed her physician's orders and stopped running and donned a back brace for three weeks, curing the fractures but interrupting her rigorous training regime.
During 1997 her racing was sporadic: that April she took first place in the women's division at the Rotterdam, Netherlands Marathon, but placed seventh in New York seven months later and put in a sluggish 2:30:26 in the Osaka, Japan marathon in January of 1998. Fortunately, things turned around later that year. In the fall of 1998 she came in third in New York only months after setting a new world record of 2:20:47 for the women's marathon at Rotterdam; she went on to break her record by four seconds in Berlin, Germany the following September. As Laroupe told Peter Gambaccini of Runner's World, her ultimate goal was to break the magic time of 2:20. "I have the courage to go for it," she said. "In the beginning of my career, I didn't have the confidence that I could run so fast. But last year, when I ran 2:22:07 at Rotterdam, I thought it was possible"
Loroupe's 10K-win during Kenya's National Track and Field Championships in 2000 qualified her for that year's Summer Games, scheduled for Sydney, Australia. She ran in both the 10K and the marathon at the Olympics, placing 13th in the marathon and fifth in the shorter run. Far less disappointing to the runner was her first-place victory at the London Marathon the same year. In 2002 she competed in the all-women Avon Running Championship circuit, taking fourth place in the 10K race with a finishing time of 33:55.
Continuing to make her home in Detmold, Germany, where she trains, Loroupe returns often to Kenya, visiting family and friends in her village and spending time with young people interested in running. Her sport has provided her with an income that has made her one of the highest-paid women in her country, and she owns homes in the towns of Nakuru and Kapsait. However, much of her new-found wealth has found its way back to the region were she first trained, taking the form of boarding school tuition, medical care and supplies, food, and clothing for friends, neighbors, family, and others living there who are in need.
Recognizing her position as a role model for women runners around the world, Loroupe is quick to explain where her motivation comes from. "I don't run for myself, I run for others," she once told an interviewer for Runner's World Daily online. Among those "others" are those women who, unlike Loroupe, have been unable to break with tradition and follow their dreams. "When I ran in school, the men in my tribe said, 'Tegla, you're wasting your time,'" she once explained to Olympics.com. "They didn't want me to do sports. But God has given me a plan. Man cannot close my door."