Saturday February 15 2014

Chelimo: A forgotten Ugandan track heroine

Chelimo (M), surrounded by friends and family, holds her plaque

Chelimo (M), surrounded by friends and family, holds her plaque after attaining her most memorable career feat last year. Courtesy Photo  

By Darren Allan Kyeyune

Kampala- Rarely does Sylivia Chelimo get a mention in Uganda’s athletics circles nowadays.
She may not have scaled the heights achieved by the likes of Dorcus Inzikuru and Stephen Kiprotich but Chelimo made her mark in middle and long distance running.

Featuring in cross-country and track races in the late 90s and 2000s, Chelimo attained legendary status at Gardner-Webb University in United States of America.
In October last year, Chelimo’s efforts were recognised when she, alongside another quartet of former students were inducted into Gardner-Webb Athletics Hall of Fame at the Tucker Student Centre.
The Ugandan was inducted alongside footballers Vince Bueno (1996-1999) and Lee Thompson (1970-1971), track athlete Julia O’Neal (1999-2002) and swimmer Melissa Smith (1999-2003).

And despite decrying the lack of attention and keenness by the athletics fraternity back home upon reaching the huge milestone, Chelimo expressed her delight in a recent interview with SCORE.
“It is great and I feel honoured to be inducted to the Gardner Hall of Fame,” she said from her base at Des Moines in Iowa, mid-western USA.

“I will always be remembered in my former university here for as long as the earth still exists. This is for the life of my grandchildren or great grandchildren who will see my picture and name hanging on the wall when I am long gone.”

She was given a plaque and a ring. Her route to a legacy that still holds 13 Gardner-Webb records, started from a humble background.

Born in the 70s in Bukwo, Chelimo endured a tough childhood and her family ended up living in Kapchorwa after being displaced by the Pokot tribe in 1978.
Being one of the decent female athletes in the early 90s, Chelimo was sent by the Uganda Olympic Committee (UOC) to Atlanta, Georgia under the Olympic Solidarity Programme in 1997.
Sadly, she got injured in 1998 and her scholarship was terminated.
She then decided to join university and when her leg got better, she got back onto the track.

Finest career
After she completed her Associate Degree in Computer Information at Ranger Junior College in Texas, she transferred to Gardner Webb University in North Carolina, where she pursued a Degree and Masters in International Business.

Chelimo enjoyed one of the finest overall careers by any student-athlete in Gardner-Webb’s history, raising the bar way too high in both cross-country and track from 1999-2003. It was also during this spell that Ugandan Athletics Federation invited her to compete in the 2000 Africa Senior Athletics Championships in Algeria and the 2001 World University Games in China.
Chelimo won two National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II titles in 2000 when she broke the tape in the 5,000m and 10,000m races.

That very season, she earned the All-America status in four different events, helping Gardner-Webb to top-five team finishes both indoors and outdoors in the program’s first season. Chelimo also excelled in cross country, winning the Great American Cross Country Festival in 2000, the ECAC Cross-Country Meet in 2001 and earned the 2002 Atlantic Sun Conference Runner of the Year honours in the sport.
She also won A-Sun titles in 2003 in 800m, 1,500m and 10,000m and remains one of that conference’s most accomplished distance runners.

Currently working as a counselor and also pursuing a PhD in public health, Chelimo wants to give raw talent back home more exposure. “I did not achieve on the global scene but I am ready to help many more young athletes I can reach back in Kapchorwa to realise their dreams through enrolling into different athletics programs here.”

Webb varsity records held by chelimo
800m: 2:10.09 (2002)
1000m: 2:56.72 (2003)
1500m: 4:35.89 (2003)
3000m:9:29.52 (2002)
5000m: 16:32.79 (2002)
Mile: 4:44.96 (2002)
800m: 2:11.84 (2003)
1500m:4:31.52 (2001)
3000m: 9:31.75 (2001)
5000m:16:11.56 (2001)
10,000m: 34:19.45 (2001)
Mile:5:03.25 (2003)
4x800m Relay: 8:52.74 (2001) with M. Houghton, P. McClymont and C. Miller