sábado, 10 de diciembre de 2011

Jake and Zane Robertson following their Dream in Kenya

"Skies are the Limit"  (Jake Robertson)

Landscape from Kerio View in Iten, Kenya
               Some years ago I was often telling friends I wanted to live in Africa one day. However there is a long way between said and done. As I was talking idealistically about Kenyan sunsets and dawns there was always someone who asked how many times I had seen “Out of Africa”. Actually I have never watched that movie but I read it is based in the autobiography of Danish writer Karen Blixen who moved to Kenya in 1914, following a convenience marriage to establish a coffee plantation, and finished up finding true love and real life before being forced to return to Europe. By then, Africa was still a mysterious and little known continent open to free spirits and all sorts of adventurers. Nearly half a century before the legendary missionary and explorer David Livingstone had discovered the Victoria Falls and was investigating the sources of River Nile when he was famously spotted by Henry Morton Stanley, who was leading a fancy expedition, financed by the New York Herald, in search of news of the long-lost hero. Livingstone was so involved with the native community than after his death, when his body was required by British authorities, they cut the heart out to keep it in Africa, where it belonged. 

             In modern times many of the visitors which East Africa attracts from Western countries are runners. Brother Colm O’Connell realised a long time ago the best mission he could undertake was helping young Kenyans become professional athletes with the school he created at the Iten hills.   http://moti-athletics-histo.blogspot.com/2011/05/john-ngugi-and-his-time.html    In the same way (1) actors and singers flock to Hollywood seeking for their artistic dreams, Kenyans from all around the country come to Iten thinking in making a fortune through running.   http://moti-athletics-marathon-m.blogspot.com/2011/06/about-last-boston-marathon-and-current.html   The setting is also a privileged destination for athletes from all over the world. Champion Lornah Kiplagat invested in the creation of a luxury training camp with swimming pool and a stunning gym and this is the place chosen for many of the arriving guests for their 2-3 months workouts at altitude. The Iten and Eldoret inhabitants are getting used to this new sort of “tourism”, but there are two foreign athletes based in the region who have drawn the attention of the local population, because they are not following the typical trend: Jake and Zane Robertson decided the best fashion to approach an athletic career was to leave their native New Zealand and go to Kenya to stay, in order to live the same life and train the same way the best runners in the world do. They settled in Iten more than four years ago and have only move from there to compete sporadically in international meetings. 

              The twin brothers from Hamilton have been described by mates they had in their beginnings in track and field as people obsessed at a very young age with running, to the point it seemed a little weird. Their heroes were El Guerrouj and Gebrselassie and knew everything about every African runner (PBs, workouts, races won, etc). They had all Kenyan and Ethiopian running videos and were also fond of East African music and food. (2) Their coach at the time, Don Willoughby, confirms the huge commitment of Jake and Zane with athletics and also their strong competitiveness and determination. (3) The idea of moving to the black continent was quite old and Jake talked about it to the Kenyan athletes in the first opportunity he had, when competing at the 2006 World Cross Country Championship in Fukuoka. He declared his wish of going to their country and the athletes encouraged him so he thought about moving as soon as possible. (4) The Robertson brothers were just 17 in the following edition of the Championship, conveniently held in Mombasa. Then, they communicated their parents and Willoughby their decision of taking a one way ticket to the World Cross.  

          Mum and dad reacted in disbelief and confusion, ultimately expressing their lack of faith in such risky adventure. Yet they had to accept it because it was not possible to convince their sons about how wrong they were of going to live to a poor country, on their own means. Usually the most promising athletes in New Zealand join American Universities for both track and field and scholar formation as such are the cases of Kim Smith or Lucy Van Dalen but Jake and Zane did not like this safe way. However, with the time, their parents have become proud of all their sons have achieved with hard work in Kenya. (5) Willoughby also shows a deep admiration for them but still believes it is not necessary to move to altitude or even to the States in order to make the grade as an athlete; it is also possible staying in New Zealand. (3) Not so long ago, the homeland of Peter Snell, John Walker, Rod Dixon, Dick Quax and the coach of coaches Arthur Lydiard was a favoured training place for foreign runners.   

Jake and Zane Robertson from Losse Veter on Vimeo.

           Once in Africa, Jake and Zane Robertson first went to Ethiopia, where they had a New Zealander contact. It was in this same land where comic book genius Hugo Pratt met the legend of decadent romantic poet Arthur Rimbaud.  Nonetheless as for the last 20 years Ethiopia most foremost son is the big champion Haile Gebrselassie. The twins had the chance of being welcomed at the house of the living legend, who they acknowledge as the man who taught them how to use properly a gym. Weeks afterwards they moved to Eldoret, where they survived living in a small room about 3x2 metres in the back of a bar and sleeping on a foam mattress. Yet, Jake and Zane did not dislike the experience because they said to be used to camping in their home country. Then, the local runners realised they were serious about staying in Kenya and Fukuoka acquaintance Saif Saeed Shaheen decided to help them out with their integration in the country. The 3000 metres steeplechase record holder got them a house in Iten next to his, and took them to train with his own group, besides affording their rent and supplying them food, when it was necessary. The twins speak highly about Shaheen, which they consider a mentor, a hero, a motivator and an elder brother (5). Amazingly, last year Jake got to beat for the first time his benefactor narrowly at the Belgrade’s Race through History, which clearly speaks about his fine progression. Zane also obtained a praiseworthy 32nd place among 350 starters at the highly competitive Discovery Cross Country Race in Eldoret, just ahead Martin Lel.
            In the beginning the New Zealanders had to adapt to the new lifestyle. Power electricity cuts are frequent in Iten and, when the dry season, water only arrives to the houses once or twice a week for one hour. It does randomly so if you are then out for training you must go ask for it to friends. For one thing or another you will not avoid walking about 15 km a day. (6) Then after training, massages and physiotherapists are not easily available so it is important a good and long rest in the evening.  Life does not offer in the Rift Valley many distractions but, once you get used to it, you love the simplicity of this existence, in close relationship with mates and nature. Otherwise, in Eldoret the same products you can buy around the world are at your disposal. For example you can have a spaghetti bolognaise for lunch if you want to. No wonder, Jake and Zane say they miss their parents but they have met in Kenya many of their very best friends and call Iten “home sweet home.” Most recent news say both twins are now engaged in a love relationship with local girls. In Zane case she is Ethiopian so he has moved to Addis Abeba for her. It seems they do not have any intention of returning to New Zealand for the moment.  
             Kenyans are reputed for training harder than anybody else and the Robertson brothers agree with this theory. Up to three daily sessions are normal with the first two being an easy jogging and the final one a tough interval workout. However it is balanced and, as already mentioned, rest is necessary too. It is also important to learn to listen to your body: training is scheduled according to your daily response and not the opposite. Both Kiwi twins had frustrating results in races last year due to overtraining. For this year they have chosen to train only in a small group with friends to avoid the stress of being pushed for random runners as it happened in 2010. Jake and Zane have baptised this selected bunch the HotBoyz, which is under the guidance of Patrick Sang, a former silver Olympic medallist at the steeplechase.    

Jake and Zane Robertson running at the 2010 Belgrade's Race through History
Photo courtesy Belgrade Marathon Ltd
    Jake and Zane Robertson are steadily progressing, though they still need much further improvement to become world beaters. At last World Cross Country Championship in Punta Umbría they finished respectively in modest 60th and 92nd positions. Zane has set a PB at the 1500 metres of 3:41.77, while Jake also achieved a new personal record at the 5000 with 13:22.38, which qualified him for Daegu. There, he had a noteworthy performance. In spite of being tripped, he bravely made up a 50 metres gap and went to the front but was pushed again, finishing his heat injured. The officials put him into the final, where Jake tried his best but he had not recovered physically. Nonetheless, what attracted the attention of New Zealand head coach Steve Willis was Jake’s strong confidence in his possibilities, which comes from his tough training in Kenya, along some of the best runners in the world. (4) Jake has set high goals for him and he would like to start in 2012 beating Adrian Blincoe’s 13:10.19 national record; then fight for the medals at the Olympics. Zane also expects a huge improvement in the new year.
           The New Zealand twins’ adventure in Kenya has gained them as many sympathizers as detractors as we can see in threads in athletic websites (2). Some accuse them of irresponsible and destructive behaviour, following impossible dreams to the extreme so they finally become nightmares. Furthermore they are blamed of abandoning their home to sail to the third world, renouncing to quality of life and education and having to depend on the help of strangers. On the other hand, others praise their brave attitude and willingness to open to new ideas, embracing another country. People with restricted minds confound an education with a degree. There is no better learning than being in contact with a different culture, which in any way can be considered inferior because of having a less competitive economy. Whether they become world class athletes or not, Jake and Zane Robertson will obtain from their experience in Kenya excellent lessons for their future lives as how to be kind and generous with the others as athletes from Iten have been with them. Anyway, they will never regret not to have tried their dream because of fear or mental barriers.

Jake and Zane Robertson training with Kenyan mates in Iten