In 2015, Sheila Chelangat almost gave up her childhood dream of being among Kenya’s top athletes.
But she opted to hang in there, and, with no regrets, as she has finally scaled the ladder to the zenith of Kenyan distance running.
Now the Kenya national cross country champion, Chelangat may have dominated at the recent National Police Service and Athletics Kenyan national championships, both held at the Ngong Racecourse in Nairobi, but her journey to the top has been met with many challenges.
The Confederation of African Athletics (CAA) postponed the Africa Cross Country Championships that was slated for March 6 and 7 in Lome, Togo, with federations across the continent now waiting for the new dates.
CAA cited the prevailing Covid-19 situation in the West African country as the reason that led to the putting off of the event for a second time.
Team Kenya, which comprises of 46 athletes and 10 officials, and which was selected on February 13 during the National Cross Country Championships at the Ngong Racecourse, were camping at the Kigari Teachers Training College in Embu but the camp was called off on Thursday and the athletes released.
This came as a big blow for Chelangat whose winning shape now won’t have a stage to blossom.
“I was in good shape… waiting for one year to make the team again was not easy. We understand the virus has been spreading and our health as athletes matters a lot. We just have to wait for further instructions, and I hope I will still be in good shape to compete,” said Chelangat, who is under the Rosa Associati Management.
Chelangat, who managed to floor world beaters at the national cross country meeting, disclosed exclusively to Nation Sport how she managed to sustain her good form despite a coronavirus-ravaged 2020 season.
She said ther training in Kericho has been good, and that she didn’t interfere with her programme when the camps were closed last year in March, training in isolation at the county’s tea plantations.
“Last year was really bad for athletes because all the races were cancelled and I was among the first ones to be affected because the Africa Cross Country Championships had been postponed to April before it was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I went on with my training because I knew one day the lockdown will come to an end and races will open up. That is what kept me in good shape and I must thank all those who encouraged me when I felt I was low,” said Chelangat who trains under coach Gabriel Kiptanui.
Her decision to compete in the cross country came as a second thought after February’s traditional Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon was cancelled.
She was expected to make her half marathon debut at Ras Al Khaimah on February 19, but the big race was cancelled due to what the organisers said were concerns over the spread of the coronavirus.
Chelangat was looking forward to competing against seasoned road road runners like the world marathon record holder Brigid Kosgei.
But she is not giving up yet as she looks forward in participating in various Diamond League races on the track ahead of the Olympics Games where she is eyeing a slot in the 5,000 metres race.
“It will be my first Olympics Games event and I know it won’t be easy but I’m working on my finishing techniques now,” said Chelangat.
Born on April 11, 1998, in Lelechwet, Bomet County, to Richard Chepkwony and Alice Chepkwony, Chelangat went to Kapkidei Primary School up to standard six before she was transferred to Kiptere Primary School after Japheth Kemei, one of the senior athletics coaches, identified her talent.
She used to stay in school as the coach asked her parents that he monitors her training since she was one of the youngest athletes.
Upon completing primary education, she joined Kiptere High School where she would compete in the 5,000m race, something she said didn’t take her far.
After completing her high school education in 2013, she went to the camp at the same place for five months before going back home as her body “couldn’t react” and she saw running as “a waste of time.”
“I would always be left behind during our training. I decided to go back home for one year where I used to train just to keep fit,” she said.
She helped her father pick tea on their farm saying that he was very tough and wanted to see someone working hard and not lazing around.
She later headed to Kericho where she lived with her uncle, Joseph Sang, while she trained for two months before getting a chance to represent Kenya at the World Cross Country Championships in the junior category in Guiyang, China, where she finished 60th.
That did not deter her to continue trying.
She then made Kenya’s team to the Africa Youth Championships where she bagged silver in the 3,000 metres race.
The same year, she was selected in Kenya’s team to the World Youth Games where she managed a bronze in the 3,000m before winning gold in 3,000m at the Commonwealth Youth Games in Apia, Samoa.
She then headed to Bydgoszcz, Poland for the World Junior Championships where she competed in her specialty 3,000m emerging fifth.
The year 2017 saw her make the team to the World Cross Country Championships in Uganda where she finished fourth position in the junior category.
Motivated, she moved to the track and made her Diamond League debut in Rome, finishing 10th in 15 minutes, 15.08 seconds.
The same year she joined the National Police Service where upon her graduation from the training school in Kiganjo, she started her season in 2018 with a race in London Diamond League where she competed in 3,000m emerging last.
“This was my first international race and I emerged last which I think was my first and the last time to register such disappointing results,” added Chelangat.
In 2019, she couldn’t represent Kenya at the World Championships in London due to a necessity by the World Athletics that an athlete must have gone through three tests in doping to be able to compete in the event.
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The year 2020 started well with a win in the National Cross Country Championships before coronavirus hit the world forcing her to train alone the entire year.
When some of the races opened up, she was tasked to pace Sifan Hassan and Brigid Kosgei during the one-hour challenge in Brussels, Belgium, where she paced up to the 12-kilometre mark.
She later, in October last year, featured in the London Marathon where she paced the leading group up to the 15km mark.
This she said that it was part of her preparations ahead of this season which again looks dark with all her races so far cancelled.
“I had high hopes of competing in this season but again we are still suffering with no races in sight. I will now wait for the Diamond League races to commence as part of preparations ahead of the Olympics Games which we hope it shall be held as planned,” concludes Chelangat.
She is the third born in a family of eight siblings and she thanks her cousin Sheila Chepkurui, who is also an athlete, and has always held her hand whenever things look tough.
She is married to Elvis Cheruiyot whom she said has also been supportive, especially during her morning runs in which he accompanies her.
“My husband has been very much supportive and that is why I’m doing well right now because he gives me ample time to train and sometimes accompanies me in the morning runs,” said Chelangat, who always wanted to be like Hellen Obiri, her mentor.