The Strength of a Woman
Joan Jepkosgei Mitei represents the powerful story of a young girl who relentlessly succeeded in her quest for education through sports. Despite countless challenges in life, among other things, overcame societal norms and went on to become the most decorated student-athlete in the United State. In the fall of 2008, Joan together with her two friends dissented after a thirty-six hour flight in Charlotte, North Carolina. Her eyes summed it all; fatigued, and tired. Seated at the baggage claim section; she gazed with a stunning smile, and instantly requested for a place to sleep. The University of South Carolina alumna had missed a flight in Europe resulting to other subsequent flight misses that culminated into a travel nightmare.
Strong women, spoken of, are known to be performers in Hollywood movies and similar other platforms. From popular culture icons to business executives, women inspire, elevate and empower other women. Yet, unspoken women, such as traditional midwives or mothers, especially those in Kenya and Africa bear the greatest responsibility of raising the entire society. Their unconditional love, sacrifice and unrelenting service to all is truly magnificent.
Joan was born in Kerita, a tiny village that is adjacent to a landmark dam that was constructed by colonialists' years ago. It is claimed that Kerita is a derivative of one lord Kiter, a white settler who had occupied the massive arable farm land. The Kalenjiin people who are the original owners of this land coined his name to Kerita from their default linguistic pronunciation. Kerita borders three other villages with similar naming characterization: Ketiplong, formerly Kapkandongo (lord Kentonwood), Kapnaila (lord Leyland) and Lelmolok formerly Kapsimit (lord Smith).
Made in Kerita
During the post-independence era, many families in Kerita became successful large scale farmers having gained knowledge as farm workers and squatters. Children became affluent to early education with the existence of mission schools that were constructed by imperialists. Food was plenty because the weather is favorable and reliable in this region. Houses were unlocked, children played together, food donations overwhelmed recipients, festivities were done communally, and peace prevailed. It is safe to say, most citizens enjoyed food security, return on their farm inputs and peace of mind.
The story and history of Kalenjiin runners is widely known. In 1950s, Kalenjiin runners had conquered the world running under the guise of Her Majesty the Queen. By 1960s, Kenya was already famous in the world of athletics. Thanks to our athletic founding fathers: Kiprugut Chumo, Dr. Kipchoge Keino, Naftali Temo, Naftali Kipuun (bon), and Sabina Chebichiy for leading the way.
Even though Kenyan athletes are famous for their athletic prowess - there lie undertones: untapped talents, the resented, and the heartache of a young girl in the village. Joan's life is one of the successful stories in the world of athletics today. The last born- twin sister is from a family of eight, and now beams with American education as a professional nurse. From legs to brain; an education that she acquired singularly through sacrifice, hard-work and determination as a young girl in a foreign land. In her village, a runner was perceived as low class citizen, a school failure, or a fantasy dreamer chasing wild dreams and oblivion. Indeed, her road to success is an epic masterpiece of great sacrifice from ridicule, pain and a greater redemption and joy.
Joan followed the footsteps of her elder, Emily, and took up athletics seriously and aggressively despite the negative societal connotations that bewildered her. Neighbors, relatives, friends and even some family members discouraged her from taking up athletics. In their view athletics is a recipe for lung problems or for school dropouts. To elude such mischiefs, Joan started training in the early morning or in the forested areas. Most of her friends deserted her, totally, citing that she lucks nothing to think about and is chasing the wind to no end. Boys didn't flicker.
They bullied her, called her names, but she would not relent. Days became weeks, weeks became months and Joan had made herself into an aspiring student-athlete. Her physic summed it all; the high cheek bones protruding, submerged eyes, and darkened melanin. Villagers were at it again. Her appearance was thrown into a sickness spin of gossip, while others hurled their bad luck wishes.
American UniversityTo fine tune herself for international assignments, Joan signed up with a local athletic camp near her home. In three months, she was already a master of her own making - landed an athletic scholarship to study in one of the prestigious universities in the United States. Word went round and the gossipers were at the forefront to see their "own" take a flight to further her studies in America. Old time friends and critics requested contacts and social media friendship so that they can keep in "touch" with their own, or even better helped them to go abroad too. Enough propaganda, sarcasm, and ridicule: it was time to invest in that American education through sports that Joan had sought out to accomplish.
For four years, Joan dominated the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) A-Sun Conference both in track indoors, track outdoors, and cross country, setting records in these events and conquered academics, and to cap it up as an all-time student-athlete. In 2012, the trio established the institution's athletic history by winning the elusive 5,000m A-Sun Conference race in a fashioned 1-2-3 finish, a feat unparalleled to date.
It is amazing how this young woman was able to balance both academics and athletics in a foreign land that is both challenging and rewarding at the same time. In Feb 2018, Joan was inducted in the Hall of Fame as the most decorated student-athlete in the Class of 2012, preceding her elder sister, Emily, who was inducted in 2016. In a village that glorified her when she succeeded, but ridiculed during the process of building a future through sports – Joan is now stronger and will be back to give back dutifully.
Indeed, Joan endured and succeeded, which truly exhibits a story of a resilient young woman who did extra ordinary things to become who she is today. To the young girls out there, sky is never the limit any more, wake up today and go directly to the sun, then cool it off for a minute, and return to earth and tell the world that girls can do it too.
Joan is currently a professional nurse, an active community organizer for aspiring young girls and mentor for upcoming runners as well as health-eating habits associate. She will continue to champion women empowerment through sports, and education around the world