Home » Hellen Obiri: New York and Boston Marathon Winner on Family Sacrifice and Quitting the Track
Africa Entertainment Kenya Sports US

Hellen Obiri: New York and Boston Marathon Winner on Family Sacrifice and Quitting the Track

Hellen Obiri’s victory in the New York Marathon on Sunday continued her sensational form on the road and, in many ways, vindicated her decision to move away from her family to live and train in the United States.

The 33-year-old left husband Tom and daughter Tania back in Kenya last year to join her coach, retired American athlete Dathan Ritzenhein.

It has paid off, with her win in New York adding to that in the Boston Marathon in April, but the pain of separation sometimes led Obiri to question her decision.

“It was a challenge because you don’t have family in the US,” she told BBC Sport Africa.

“Sometimes the time difference (for) calling (home) is not good. Maybe when you call the child is sleeping.

“She (Tania) was always telling me ‘Mommy, I want you to come now’.

“When she tells you, you feel like crying, you feel you don’t have morale. Why am I here and my baby’s crying there?”

Previously a 5000m specialist who claimed world titles over the distance in 2017 and 2019, the 2018 Commonwealth title and Olympic silver medals in 2016 and 2020, Obiri finished sixth on her marathon debut in New York last November.

But she proved to be a fast learner, triumphing on her second outing over 26.2 miles in Boston.

And, as she crossed the finish line that day, a few metres ahead was Tania – and she was soon locked in an embrace with her daughter and Tom.

The rush of emotion left Obiri in tears, and she found it all hard to describe.

“That was one good moment for me, at the finish line seeing my daughter. I cannot even explain what I felt.”

An understanding family

When Obiri moved to the US last September it meant leaving Tania and Tom back in East Africa waiting on their visas.

But it was a decision taken to dedicate herself to the training required to run marathons.

“When switching to the road, I felt I needed a coach on the ground with me in training,” she explained.

“On track you can train without a coach present and do well, but with the marathon sometimes you need a coach to watch what you are doing.

“The most important thing is the family understands what you are going there to do, because it’s a short career. The family give me a lot of time, support and a lot of encouragement.”

Her husband and daughter had only arrived in their new home city of Boulder, Colorado, a few weeks before the race in Boston.

After months on her own concentrating on training under coach Ritzenhein, the arrival of Tom and Tania certainly gave her a boost.

“When you have your family around you, that means you don’t have stress,” she said.

“You don’t need to think about anything else. You are thinking about your family and the race and when your family is there to watch you, they give you a lot of encouragement.”

A quick learning curve

Despite her best efforts to remain focused following her transition to the road, Obiri’s marathon debut in New York 12 months ago did not go as planned as poor race tactics saw her finish sixth.

“I used to run from the front in track races,” she said.

“I thought even in a marathon I can run in front. That cost me a lot because in marathon you can’t do all the work for 42 kilometres.

“What I learned from New York is patience, just wait for the right time so you can make a move.”

Obiri has certainly not forgotten those lessons. With her family watching on, she took more than four minutes off her time in New York on the way to victory in Boston seven months ago.

And, on her return to the Big Apple on Sunday, Obiri produced an extraordinary final kick to beat Ethiopian Letesenbet Gidey by just six seconds and win in a time of two hours 27 minutes and 23 seconds.

“I was a bit worried because the other ladies were so strong. But a marathon is about patience,” she told ESPN.

“So I said, ‘Okay, let’s be patient until we get to Central Park’ and then see what will happen at the end.”

Rocking life in Boulder

With the family now settled in their Colorado home, Tom has enrolled as a student. But Obiri worries about how an eight-year-old Kenyan girl will adjust to life in a different country.

“The first week was terrible for her because she didn’t have friends here, it’s a new environment,” Obiri told BBC Sport Africa, fretting as any mother would.

“(But) Tania is so friendly. So after one week and a half, she was coming and telling mum ‘I have some friends, this one and this one…'”

Obiri also had concerns when it came to Tania enrolling in school.

“I was so worried. I wondered, how will the teachers treat her as she’s from Africa?

“Maybe some schoolmates will think ‘You are from Africa, we don’t want to be your friends.’

“I used to ask after school, ‘Who wasn’t nice to you? Do they treat you well?’ and she said ‘No, I’m okay with my friends and my teachers’.”

Olympic agenda

The 2019 world cross country champion says not all of her friends understood her decision to uproot her family, but Obiri blocks out the “negative talk” to focus on her athletic ambitions and is also now at peace with her family situation.

Her next big mission away from taking on the other four World Marathon Majors in Chicago, London, Berlin and Tokyo is to try to complete her list of global titles, filling the one very obvious hole in her list of achievements.

“I will work hard to be in the Kenya (marathon) team for Paris 2024.”

“I have won gold medals in World Championships so I’m looking for Olympic gold. It is the only medal missing in my career.”

Source : BBC