When Kenyan runner Mary Wacera Ngugi steps to the start line Monday for the 126th Boston Marathon, she’ll aim to do more than improve on her third-place finish from 2021: She’s looking to shine a light on East African athletes who are victims of domestic violence.
Less than a week after her podium finish in Boston last October, Ngugi got a devastating call with news that fellow Kenyan runner and two-time world championship medalist Agnes Tirop was found dead at 25 after being stabbed to death at home by her estranged husband Ibrahim Rotich.
“After Agnes, I said, ‘This is it,'” Ngugi recently told Women’s Running.
While she immediately demanded that Tirop’s killing be a wake-up call, Ngugi followed up by helping to establish the Women’s Athletic Alliance to fight against domestic abuse and inequalities, particularly for female athletes in East Africa.
“Most people out there, they don’t know what women (athletes) in Kenya go through – they just see them winning races,” she said on the “Keeping Track” podcast. “They just see them, like, breaking world records. But there’s so many things that happen behind the scenes.”
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Chief among the most prevalent behavior, Ngugi explained, is an overwhelming control exerted on East African athletes by their coaches and/or husbands.
“They go to races (and) they’re not even enjoying it because there are all these men who are like, ‘You cannot speak.’ It’s like their control,” she said. “They cannot speak, they cannot mingle, they cannot chat with friends. And that is also what we are trying to help these women to know – that they are important as well. They’re not just another race.”
Ngugi’s efforts have earned her a spot on the Boston Athletic Association’s honorary women’s team – created in honor of the original eight finishers in the first official women’s field in 1972. The 50th anniversary team is comprised of eight women who have made powerful contributions in areas ranging from athletics to human rights, and each will compete at the front of the race as part of the John Hancock Professional Athlete Team.