Author’s note: In February 2020, Aliphine Tuliamuk won the women’s marathon at U.S. Olympic Trials. When the COVID-19 pandemic caused the Tokyo Olympics to be postponed by a year, Tuliamuk and her partner Tim Gannon decided to reassess their own family planning timeline. In December, Tuliamuk announced that she was pregnant and due in January, but still planned to race at the Olympics this summer. With just over 100 days until the start of the Games, On Her Turf caught up with Tuliamuk about the birth of her daughter Zoe and her goals for this summer.
Just over 32 years ago in Posoy – a tiny village in Kenya’s West Pokot county – Koo Ruto was in her family’s round hut, in labor with her soon-to-be-named daughter: Aliphine Chepkerker Tuliamuk.
As the story goes, “I guess she didn’t want to be around anyone anymore,” Tuliamuk explained in an interview last month. “So she went outside behind the house, and that’s when she gave birth.”
Ruto’s decision to get a little space from her family can be seen in the middle name she gave her daughter: Chepkerker (pronounced chep-ker-ker).
“It means born outside, around the house,” Tuliamuk explained. “In my culture, we don’t name kids until they are born… And usually the middle name is the first name that we give them. It resonates with what time of the day they were born, what place they were born, or what events are happening.”
Tuliamuk, who announced her pregnancy in December, was induced in January at 38 weeks. “We thought we were going to go in, get induced, and 12 hours later, we would have our daughter. We were so naive,” Tuliamuk laughed.
What followed was childbirth’s equivalent to a marathon: 50 hours of labor.
“I didn’t know where the finish line [was]. And I’m someone who likes to know where the finish line is.”
Tuliamuk says her water broke at 28 hours, but she didn’t dilate until hour 34. “When they said I was four centimeters dilated. I’ve never been happier. I was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m happy being in pain.’ It was kind of strange.”
Finally, at 4:09 pm on January 13, 2021, Zoe Cherotich Gannon arrived.
While Tuliamuk and her partner Tim Gannon had decided on the first name “Zoe” ahead of their daughter’s birth, Pokot culture influenced their daughter’s middle name.
Because Zoe was born in the late afternoon, they picked “Cherotich” (pronounced cher-oh-teach), which Aliphine describes as “a name given to a child who is born in the evening, when animals are coming back from grazing.”
In the weeks following Zoe’s birth, Tuliamuk has adjusted to life as a new mother, and what that means to her own sleep schedule.
“[I] wake up every two hours to feed her, and by the time she’s done, she’s asleep, but [I’m] wide awake,” Tuliamuk explained while breastfeeding Zoe during our interview.
Eight weeks after Zoe’s birth, Tuliamuk returned to training. After her third postpartum run, she reflected in an Instagram post:
“I definitely have to remind myself that my body did an amazing thing… We still have a long way to go to be 100% and train seriously, but right now I feel good enough to continue my buildup slowly.”
If you can see it, you can be it
At last February’s U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, over 90 percent of the athletes in the women’s event identified as white, while only one percent identified as Black, according to data collected by the NYTimes.
But from the very white field, two Black women emerged victorious. At this summer’s Olympics, Tuliamuk and third-place finisher Sally Kipyego are set to become the first Black women to represent the U.S. in the marathon since the event debuted at the Olympics in 1984.
“I [know] the importance of representation. When I got back from Atlanta, I got a lot of messages from Black girls and Black women,” Tuliamuk explained.
“You cannot aspire to something that you can’t see… There’s a lot of Black girls that probably watch the Olympics, but they watch the 100 meters and the field events, because that is where they see Black athletes. But in the marathon, they’ve never seen a Black person do it [while] representing the U.S. Now that Sally and I are going, hopefully those kids can watch us and start dreaming, too.”
Looking ahead to the Olympics, Tuliamuk says her goal is to “run as hard as I can and produce the highest result that I can.”
But she also knows that her final placement isn’t the only way she can have an impact.
“When I won Olympic Trials, I think a lot of people felt like I wasn’t a complete representation of an American,” Tuliamuk reflected last month. “While I value my Kenyan culture… I also really value being an American… I think I can definitely inspire other immigrants who live here, who have a lot of obstacles to achieving the American dream.”
Now – nearly three months after accomplishing one ‘amazing thing’ – Tuliamuk is three months away from accomplishing another.
“In the future, [my daughter] will be able to look back and say, ‘My mom was able to run a marathon at the Olympics six-and-a-half months after having me.’ And I hope that inspires her… and other little girls and boys, too.”Follow @AlexAzziNBC
For the latest in women’s sports news and features all year round:
Bookmark the On Her Turf blog: www.nbcsports.com/on-her-turf