How Olympic champion overcame alcohol problem

How Olympic champion overcame an alcohol problem

In Summary

•Bungei realised he was alcoholic in September 2012 and had to book himself at a rehabilitation centre

•Bungei remains furious with the manner in which former boxer, Conjestina Achieng’s depression was and continues to be handled.

Wilfred Bungei
Wilfred Bungei
Image: FILE

 Bungei opens up on his battle with alcoholism after retiring from athletics The 2008 Olympic Games 800m champion Wilfred Bungei has revealed the struggles that followed him in retirement after a career on the top echelons of the sport, competing against the world’s best for over 15 years.

Bungei signed off in style, a dream Olympic gold medal at the Bird’s Nest in Beijing and embarked on a life in retirement, with running his business top on his agenda.

Unfortunately, he couldn’t get it right this time around as he sunk into a path, previously followed by many, of alcohol abuse. “I was so idle after my retirement because initially, I had lived a life of a full-time athlete for 365 days in a year. I was in athletics for 15 years and therefore, never had an opportunity socialise like my age-mates,” said Bungei.

“Once I retired, I didn’t have much to do. I resorted to binge drinking and before I knew it, I was a full-blown alcoholic. It took me a roller-coaster of two years to recover.” Funny enough, Bungei never used to visit bars and clubs to have his drink. Instead, he used to buy alcohol in bulk and stock it at home where he would drink for days on end. In addition, he wasn’t a DDO (daily drinking officer) either.

“I never had drinking friends as others do. My drinking was at home. People never knew I was a drunkard,” added Bungei, who unsuccessfully vied for the Emgwen Constituency parliamentary seat during the 2017 general elections. “I could drink continuously five days and then take a four-month break. But once I decided to drink, it was chaotic all the time.”

Bungei realised he was alcoholic in September 2012 and had to book himself at a rehabilitation centre. However, despite the personal initiative to seek help, he wanted to leave the centre as soon as he had booked himself in. “As alcoholics, we are know-it-all people, always arrogant, know our problems but don’t want to admit we have any. I was admitted for six weeks, but after two days, I thought I was well.

At the facility, I had fellow alcoholics, with whom we used to call ourselves ‘inmates’. At one time, the management decided to vote and determine if I was to leave the facility or not but I was not favoured at all. They all voted for me to stay, which I accepted. For the six weeks, I was admitted, they were so good to me and that’s how I discovered myself. I spent about Sh1m, which was worth it,” he said.

He doesn’t regret the expenses on treatment since he is certain he would have lost much more had he continued abusing the drug. It is now seven years and counting without taking it. Bungei claims many sportsmen and women performing at the highest level always have a vacuum once they retire, with alcohol a preferred pastime, unfortunately.

“According to the books I have read, three out of five sports persons will go under two years after retirement. After another two years, one more will go. This is a global trend that needs to be addressed. This also happens to movie and music stars,” he explained. This is how talents go to waste. Some people fail to handle fame which is unfortunate and I blame society for failing to help us. These people need help!

“Young people don’t know where to start after retirement and for those who have invested, farms, apartments and other properties are never enough. The idleness is where the big issue is. That is why I have always said government and federations should have a long term plan for our sportsmen and women to ensure they have something to do once they retire,” he added. Bungei remains furious with the manner in which former boxer, Conjestina Achieng’s depression was and continues to be handled.

“I never liked it when some people took Conjestina for treatment. They paraded, ridiculed, portrayed and exposed her. Such people need special care and not the exposure of such magnitude,” explained Bungei. However, he observed that current athletes are well educated unlike in the past where they depended 100% on running, with investments just a pipe dream.

“I am especially happy with athletes who join uniformed forces since they will make their life better after sports career is over but civilians continue to suffer.” And with many Kenyan athletes either banned or suspended for using banned substances, Bungei said they should emulate former Africa junior champion, Matthew Kisorio, who came out and gave his story, which he says is part of the healing process.

“Doping is a vice that needs to be criminalised. In 2009, I said dopers should be jailed but some people said that I am so harsh. Dopers are thieves, stealing from clean athletes across the world. I still stand by my sentiments then, that doping should be criminalised. Imagine how many people will be affected if Kenya is banned from competitions. Families, coaches, managers, agents among others who depend on the sport will have nowhere to go,” he observed.

“I also support Athletics Kenya when they say dopers should never wear national colours. That will be an abuse of integrity because nowadays, individuals mandated to bring dignity in the sport are the ones causing a mess. We need to involve Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya (ADAK), AK and managers among other stakeholders to end the vice. The same zeal we are using in the fight against corruption is the same we should use in the fight against doping,” he said.

“Kisorio is a great and brave man. He admitted what he did. If you want to heal, admit what is affecting you. Kisorio is now healed and, in addition, discovered his real friends. Admitting you have a challenge means you have discovered yourself and want to change. I salute him. That guy deserves a standing ovation. He should be made an ambassador and an anti-doping crusader,” added Bungei.

Currently, Bungei is engaged in a variety of activities, including construction.

He has opened a company as well as a hotel business in Kapsabet town, Nandi county.

He is also involved in farming and does motivational talks in schools and institutions, both locally and abroad.