With about 3kilometers left to run, Uganda’s gold medalist at the World Half Marathon Championships in Gyndia, Poland, Jacob Kiplimo glanced over his shoulder, there was Kenya’s Kibiwot Kandie clawing towards him.
Kipolimo took another glance, all he could see was an obstacle to Uganda’s first-ever gold at the event, like a little possessed demon, Kiplimo stepped on the gas and accelerated at a new pace, tearing away quickly while Kenya’s Kandie gasped with disbelief painted on his now limited body effort.
Finito! Finished! Kiwedde! Kipilimo had set a new history for Uganda, left Kibiwot beaten, and even spared more energy to pace around like a sandboy after crossing the finish line.
In the first informal interview by Kiplimo, he mentioned the name Clara and thanked her for mingling “the posho and beans” that gave him so much energy to smash records.
Clara, was the unsung hero, who we now understand drove 12 hours to Poland, booked into a hotel, and employed herself to treat the whole team to a real local Ugandan dish.
The last posho and beans that would act as the last fuel in the tank, to help sail Kiplimo to victory on his debut.
Cheptamoron Clara, now Clara Pedersen, a Ugandan aged 33 years and married in Denmark on the very day of the race, appeared at the sidelines carrying a saucepan filled with Chapati and fried beans on her head.
Speaking to Nile Post in a phone interview, days after the event, Clara said that she had to drive over 1070km from Denmark just to make sure that the team does not feed on anything else, but local Ugandan food.
“I left my place in Denmark at 10:30 am and reached Poland at 02:45 am in the Night. My GPS showed me that it would take me 11:45 hours. I chose to make the journey irrespective. On arrival, I booked my own hotel apartment where I could cook for our athletes,” Clara said.
“I knew they would need local foods which will last longer in the body than the Polish food and indeed, my cooking really helped. As soon as Jacob won, in his speech, he thanked me for cooking the food that strengthened him,” she added.
Developing the idea
Clara reveals that this is not the first time she has done so. She says that last year when the team of about 40 were in Denmark, the contingent had with them Ugandans who had not traveled before.
“They came with some people who had never travelled, (from Bukwo, Kween, Kapchorwa). When they reached the hotel, many failed to eat the food, it was new food. That is where I got the idea to cook for the food.”
“I went home and made them posho, chapatti, potatoes, beef, eggplant, gnuts, and some posho. They ate and enjoyed it. I did the same for the next day at breakfast. I felt they needed this home food to galvanize them. The food here would upset them and fail their agenda.”
She said when the Poland event drew close, she got in touch with the team and openly declared her intentions to feed them on Ugandan organic food.
“I asked them to carry some local food. My aunt Chelimo Beata (CID head of Compliance and Investigations department at UNRA) and local people from Kapchorwa bought them local foods to come with so I can cook.”
Clara is quick to point out the communal contribution of the Kapchorwa community, thwarting credit away from her side.
“It was an entire communal job from the people back home to purchase the items for these athletes, I was only prepared to cook,” she said.
She mentions people like; Juliet Chepoyeyin (Aspiring Woman MP Kapchrowa), Sam Bukose, Aggrey Musobo, Ken Wasawas, Sylvia Cherotich, Annet Cheptoek, Laban Jeremiah Chelangat, Esther Chesang, Martin Cherotwo, and Chepkwemoi Diana.
Others are; Atim Gloria, Kaweesa Becky, Chemutai Annet, Lowendi Emmanuel, Kadoli Raymond Simon, Chebet Israel Mash, Cherukut Pollyn, one Dr. Andrew and all Kapteretians.
How they got in contact
Clara, arrived in Denmark 12 years ago as a sports student says she has been known to most of the Ugandan team for quite long.
“Those are my brothers and sisters, we come from the same town back home in Uganda. In fact, when I come to Uganda, they sometimes host me and take me around to the track to see them train,” she said.
Athletes Fearing COVID
Clara said that when the athletes saw her, they asked her for her mask from a distance.
“Where is your mask? Jacob (Kiplimo) asked me, the rest also kept wondering how I was without a mask,” Clara said.
“They refused to even hug me, they said they would not hug me unless I was negative from COVID-19 and they kept such a distance until they got enough reassurance that I was COVID free, that is when we were able to sit and talk and eat,” she said.
What they talked as they ate
The best conversations, the most realistic conversations are those people have during a meal, the conversations even stretch more realistically and become inspirational if such a meal is of good content.
While they sat to devour the Kumnyet (Sabin name for Posho), Pareyonik (beans), Lapotuk (eggplants), Cepatinak (chapatti), fish and gnuts, Clara waxed lyrical about self-belief and spiritual commitment.
“We talked about how small we are in the eyes of God, and in turns, we said so many stories about life, home, our people, and the task ahead (the marathon,” she said.
When the eating was done, she took them out to familiarize themselves with the city, watch the sea waters run their own marathon from the middle to the banks, play silly childhood games at the kids park and make merry in their own simple way.
The next get together meal would come when Kiplimo has gold in his hands.
She says as they sat the talk had shifted to counseling Kiplimo and the younger athletes.
“We talked about how to remain human even when we win gold, we agreed that no matter what we achieve, we should never deviate from who we are, we should never forget where we come from.”
Such talk was in front of a meal that comes directly from home.
What the champion told them at mealtime
Kiplimo, satisfied with both food and gold while at the meal table said he was worried when he looked behind and could not see Joshua Cheptegei.
“I kept looking back and thinking he would be coming, but could not see him. I continued waiting on him until at a certain point I realized he was done, I paced off,” Kiplimo said.
The race in Poland was not only a showcase for Ugandan talent on the track, not only a time for the Ugandan flag to soar for the world to see, but it was also a time to take Uganda to the world, to show the natural sweet local foods that make us who we are.
And these things came from those that know they are doing so little, from Ugandans are connected across big seas by a little crane in their hearts; the Kiplimos, the Cheptegeis, and the Claras. Long Live the Pearl of Africa.
Who is Clara
Clara was born in November 1987 to the late Nicholas Onegi, a sports fanatic icon having worked as Uganda Secretary of UOC, and her mother, Agatha Cherukut who currently lives in Kapchorwa.
She comes from the clan of the Kapcheroch.
Clara grew up in Kapteret (Mak’awani) and only moved to Kampala in December 1995 when the mother joined Uganda Wildlife Authority where she worked until her retirement in 2012.
“When I came to Kampala in December 1995, I joined Mivule Primary school Mutungo and after went to Rev. John primary school Kitintale. I later joined St. Kizito SS Bugolobi in 2001 – 2004.”
According to Clara, it is her father who introduced her to sports, and her going to Denmark was through sports.
While in Denmark, she joined Viborg Idræt High School and that’s where she met her husband and they started living together after school.
But for such an inspirational soul, does she ever seek inspiration from others? Hell yes, she does.
“Some of the women who inspired me are Aunt Beata Chelimo the Uganda Commissioner of Uganda Police, Aunt Jackline a Police officer, my mother’s uncles who look up to me so much, my big sister Fillian in Denmark who made sure all daddy’s daughters especially her stepsisters came to Europe. My big sister Fazira and her kids, my three brothers Bob Leon, Alex Simon, and Vincent Chekwick with his Girlfriend Christine Chelangat.”