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Joseph Ngure, the master of all: A teacher, journalist to athletics coach

Joseph Ngure is a master of all traits, an athletics coach, journalist, teacher and priest that surrounds his day to day life.

As he narrates, his life has been with ups and downs but he has never let it bring him down.

Born in 1964 in Kaptagat, Ngure reported to Kitany Secondary School in Keiyo South, Elgeyo Marakwet County in 1992, his mandate was to teach English and English Literature as he pursued his apprenticeship in journalism.

“Although this was not my first time to teach in high school, after I  began teaching at Kiboron Secondary School from 1988- 1991 after completing my A-Levels and attending British Council Organized English Teachers training at Moi Teacher’s Diploma College, I found the environment adaptable after finding two former classmates teaching there,” said Ngure.

Due to the big population of the students, the Flax primary school alumni found it challenging; teaching three streams in each Form, which was contrary to the previous school that was just beginning with a handful of students since the institution had started with the first 8.4.4 class.

“I found teaching the subject very interesting especially Literature since most teachers in the department were Asians and knew very little about African Oral Literature. I immersed myself in my teaching call-up while at the same time pursuing journalism training with Kijabe Printing Press during school holidays,” explained the Mother of Apostle Seminary (MOAS) student.

In Kijabe, he became regular contributor to Today In Africa, a Christian Publication that dwelt much on life testimonies and fictions with religious teachings/morals, following the mentorship at Mother of Apostles Seminary, he found myself getting involved in many other school and church activities like training students and local Christians in music. I had taken Young Christian Students (YCS).

“These additional roles gave me a sense of belonging and I found teaching more enriching. But I continued with writing and within 2 years, I started a journalism club and, together with the English Department, we started publishing the School Magazine- The Kitany Star. I was the Editor and the club patron,” he added.

With a burning desire to do more for the school and the students, he was asked to assist in athletics training by the school deputy Leonard Cherop, his former classmate since he knew Ngure was a member of the athletics team during his high school.

“During my first assignment, I took the school Cross Country team to the district championships in Iten in 1993 and I was amazed by the running potential of my students. Out of the 6 team members, my boys took the first 2 positions with the Late Samuel Chepkok and Michael Kite coming, finishing first and second positions in the vast district endowed with running talents,” he explained.

Athletics coach Joseph Ngure in red with brother Colm O’Connel in Nandi County. PHOTO: John Vaselyne

The results stunned Bro. Colm O’Connell with his St Patrick’s Iten team who, hitherto, ruled the schools championships unchallenged. The two boys were selected to represent the district in the provincial championships in Kabarnet where Chepkok again finished first but Kite retired in position 8. The victory secured him a ticket for national championships that were held in Thika. This also forced me to accompany him to Mang’u High School, the venue for the championships.

“Although things were not easy at the National, the championships were an eye opener to him and me as his trainer. Then two-times World Junior Cross Country Champion Philip Mosima, international Josphat Machuka from Nyanza, who had just jetted into the country from the World championship, beat him. He finished 3rd ahead of the upcoming Musyoka Nguku and experienced Atoi Boru, both from Eastern,” remembered Ngure.

Buoyed by success, more boys joined the athletics program in school under his watch and when the second term came, he had a strong team for the grassroots’ competitions that usually started at divisional or zonal level.

“I was happy when Chepkok sailed all through to nationals, when he won the 3,000metres Steeplechase, breaking the national school record by clocking 8:40.15, erasing William Mutwol 8:41.40 that had stood for 7 years. This saw him being selected to represent Kenya in Australia in the month of December together with other students,” he noted.

This was good luck for him when Athletics Kenya, then Kenya Amateur Athletics Association  (KAAA), organized a Level- C Coaching Course at Kapsabet and the school never hesitated to send him for training.

“In this training I obtained my first coaching certificate in seniors’ coaches including David Letting, Stephen Lagat, Robert Ng’isirei, Joseph Chemuren, Amos Korir, Billy Kosgei and the Late William Saina. Dan Muchoki and Mike Koskei conducted the training,” he explained.

After gaining fresh knowledge, he expanded his coaching to local primary schools like Kitany and Kapkoi where he discovered and trained young girls to international level.

“I worked with teachers and in 1994, Jepkorir Aiyabei, World Cross Country bronze, Ednah Kiplagat, (1996 World Junior 3,000metres Silver Medalist, and Rose Kosgei (1997 World junior Cross Country Champion) boosted my career. This was the mark in my long journey in sports. When Colm learnt of my training, he invited me to St Patrick’s Iten where we teamed up with the Late Samson Kimobwo, then a teacher at Marakwet Boys and Boniface Tiren (teaching Chesubet primary school then) and found the famous St Patrick’s Students Holiday Training Camp,” he sites.

Under the mentorship of the veteran Coach, who trained under former national head coach Walter Abmayre, they nurtured young talents who went ahead to rule the World as both juniors and seniors in the 1990s and early 2000s among them Olympians and World champions Wilson Kipketer Boit, Reuben Kosgei, Japhet Kimutai, Kipkurui Misoi, Lydia Cheromei, Sally and Florence Barsosio, Janeth Jepkosgei, Edna Kiplagat, Viola Kbiwott among others.

“It was due to this production line that KAAA selected me for my first international assignment in 1996. I was appointed assistant coach for the World Cross Country team that competed in Cape Town. I was in charge of the junior team that was composed of pupils and students from our Iten junior camp including Patrick Ivuti from Machakos. After the assignment in South Africa, I was chosen for the first IAAF Coaching Education and Certification System Level 1 Course that was held at The Regional Development Centre in Nairobi. We were a class of 30 pioneers,” he said.

“In 1997, I was among 4 Kenyan coaches who were recalled for IAAF C E C S Level 2 which graded us as senior coaches at Club or Camp level. It was after this that again the federation picked me for my second international duty. In 1998, I was again enlisted in the national Cross Country team to Marrakech, Morocco, in the same capacity as assistant coach. I was lucky to handle the team since for the first time, the International Association of Athletics Federation introduced the 4Km category in the cross country. Team Kenya, led by John Kibowen, Paul Kosgei, Daniel Komen, Benjamin Limo, Kipkurui Misoi swept the first six positions to claim the inaugural trophy in that category,” said the smiling Ngure.

In 1999, he was chosen the Kenyan coach for the inaugural IAAF High Performance Training Camp (HPTC) at Kipkeino’s Kazi Mingi Farm alongside Suleiman Nyambui of Tanzania where they trained the first youth team for the inaugural World Youth Championship from English Speaking Countries in Africa.

He says that that did not go down well with fellow coaches. Envious that his star was shining with each event, they schemed to halt his ambition by falsely implicating me in some immoral activities.

Despite enjoying a cordial working relationship with the school administration, local politics also curtailed my vision. It was also undeniable that he was spending most of teaching time engaging in sports and left Kitany in 2001.

However, his love and passion for athletics was not lost as he continued working with Colm as the Camp’s head coach while writing for The Daily Nation as a Correspondent, covering the then Keiyo and Marakwet districts before joining Paul Ereng at the Eldoret-based IAAF HPTC to handled middle and long distant athletes after a lot of persuasion and his training and experience came in handy in 2002.

Coach Joseph Ngure in red with Dominic Ondiek. Photo: John Vaselyne

“This was the designing moment for my coaching career. It was relieving working with Ereng and Kipchoge Keino, two great men in the world of athletics. I learned a lot interacting with them. The opportunity to work with IAAF enabled me to train many top runners not only in Kenya but all over the World. Most of those who secured scholarship to train there include Ezekiel Kemboi, Janeth Jepkosgei, Daniel Kipchirchir Komen, Clement Langat, Ruth Bosibori, Veronica Ng’ososei, Asbel Kiprop, Lydia Rotich, and Linus Chumba among others,” he recalled.

From outside Kenya, they trained 2008 Olympic Silver medalist Ismael Ahmed Ismael from Sudan, Hawa Hussein from Tanzania, Dorcas Inzikuri and Martin Toroitich from Uganda, Simret Ali, Ali Suleiman and Jonah Kefles from Eritrea, Tonny Wamulwa and Elizet Banda from Zambia and Moussa Camara from Mali and many others from Burundi, Rwanda, Malawi, Djibouti, Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles, Botswana, Gambia and other English and French speaking countries in Africa.

The camp also granted me the opportunity to tour many European countries as they used to re-locate the training from Kenya to Italy every summer and we could attend many races from there.

At the IAAF camp, he also worked with other coaches from Kenya in the pre-Olympics and Commonwealth Games training. From 2008 to 2012 he trained the Paralympics teams that included Henry Wanyoike, Abraham Tarbei, Samuel Muchai, Henry Kirwa and others who won several medals in Beijing and London.

“It was while coaching at the HPTC that I stepped up writing seriously. I shifted from The Daily Nation to The Standard as I was forced to narrow down on sports writing. I was in charge of the Sports Desk in the Bureau. It was easier for me since I interacted with all sports newsmakers almost on daily basis,” he added

His coaching star moved a notch higher in 2007 when IAAF enrolled him with National Head Coach Julius Kirwa, Sammy Macharia and the Late Peter Mathu Titi, for Elite Academy Diploma at Kenyatta University.

“The Academy Diploma completes the 5-tier IAAF Coaches grading system and elevates the coaches to ranks slightly below the Chief Coach and the Coaching Development director. With this grade, a coach can work in all IAAF member federations all over the World,” lectured Ngure.

As is common, all straight roads do not lack a bump. 2007-2008 clashes and things started taking new turns. The unrest made many foreign athletes renounce their training scholarships and preferred training in their home countries, fearing for their lives in Kenya.

The mutual trust that they had enjoyed working together deteriorated as they became suspicious, differed on political lines but they managed to play down this and worked to implement the 2012 Olympics training Program.

“Came 2012 and the mighty camp, which was being funded by Olympic Solidarity, started disintegrating. Athletics Kenya, under the Late Isaiah Kiplagat, recommended me to go to Jamaica on an exchange program where I was to train middle and Long distance events while a coach from Jamaica was to come to Kenya to train the Sprinters,” explained Ngure.

“However, whereas I was ready and willing to go, the Jamaican coaches preferred working in Canada, America and Australia than in Africa. No coach was willing to work in Kenya and the programme collapsed.”

He tried setting his own training camp at Kaptagat with a Korean friend but gave up the idea after he was offered a chance to coach in two Universities.

Joseph Ngure during Nandi County Athletics kenya cross country championships. Photo: John Vaselyne

“But I preferred something vibrant. I always prefer training young and serious talents. Most students in the Universities do not take sports, especially athletics, seriously,” said Ngure.

In 2013, he prevailed upon to work in a new training camp in Naivasha in Mountain running.

“This provided new challenges for me since I mostly specialized in Track events. I had to shift to road races. I am still transforming myself to the new order. It is here that I have discovered Kenya can also compete and win Mountain Running,” he said.

The Athletics Kenya registered the first team to the World Mountain Running Championships in 2014 and Lucy Wambui Murigi won the first Silver medal for Kenya.

“I managed the team and registered Kenya officially with the World Mountain Running Association. With AK backing, we are rolling out Mountain Running in the country.”