• He is now who hoping to transform his prowess on the track, where he won numerous accolades, onto the roads.
• He says the most memorable of his numerous wins remains the London Paralympics where he broke the world record in 1,500m at 3:50.15 from 3:52.50.
When the International Olympics Committee changed the T46 category rule in 2013, triple Paralympic champion Abraham Tarbei had his career crash before his eyes.
Tarbei, who made his international debut in 2003, could not fit into the twitched regulations in his category and had to quit para-running.
But as fate would have it, his wife Clara encouraged him to continue training and after two years on the sidelines, he had an opportunity to pace at the 2015 Milan Marathon, a rare happenstance.
However, due to his inability, well, he calls it abled differently, the opportunities to run in elite marathons have been scarce. With consistent training and encouragement from his wife, Tarbei decided to try his luck in marathon running, against abled opponents and he did not disappoint, finishing 10th on his debut at the 2019 Standard Chartered Marathon in a time of 2:15:17.
He is now hoping to transform his prowess on the track, where he won numerous accolades, onto the roads. Tarbei's first major title came at the 2006 World Championships in Assen, The Netherlands where he won gold in both the 1,500m and 5,000m races.
He went on to repeat the feat at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games. At the 2011 World Championships in Christchurch, New Zealand, Tarbei clinched a gold medal in the 5,00m and a bronze in the 800m.
At the 2012 London Paralympic Games, he won a gold medal in 1,500m and a bronze in the 800m while his last outing at the 2013 IPC World Championships in Lyon, France ended in disappointment as he registered a DNS in the 5,000m race.
Tarbei is now focused on executing the 'No Human Is Limited' philosophy of his friend and role model, world marathon record holder Eliud Kipchoge.
“When you look at what Eliud (Kipchoge) did in the marathon, it was not easy since no one believed that he can run such time but he did bring the world to a standstill. If he did that, what will stop me from doing something remarkable too? asks Tarbei.
Kipchoge ran the Ineos 1:59 Challenge last year when he beat the sub-2-hour mark finishing the 42km in 1:59.40 and this has raised Tarbei's spirits.
“I chose the long and tough journey of marathon running. I know the road is rough with speed bumps, corners, hills and steep slopes that I need to beat to reach my destiny,” says Tarbei.
His wife Clara interjects, revealing how Tarbei had lost hope but she encouraged him to take his challenges head-on.
“As a family, we were seriously affected by the new rules. Since the changes were made, my husband has not competed in any race since he is unable to navigate through the trials. He has not run any race abroad. He almost lost hope but I had to take time to encourage him to train again. Now he has gained the courage to take normal runners head-on,” said Clara, a clerical officer at the Ministry of Interior at Chesumei sub-county in Nandi County.
“I always make sure that he trains well. I have to motivate him especially when a race is near. Deciding to compete in marathon was a big step in his life and career. He is respected by normal runners because of his speed and endurance,” adds Clara.
Coming from Nandi County, Tarbei is keen to write his name among the region's best, led by Kipchoge, two-time world marathon champion Abel Kirui, reigning world marathon bronze medalist Amos Kipruto, former Tokyo Marathon winner Dickson Chumba, two-time London marathon champion Priscah Jeptoo, former world half marathon record holder Peres Jepchirchir among others.
“I train with some of the top athletes from this region and I have no problem so far as I chase my dream. Training alongside these athletes gives me much needed energy, speed and endurance,” adds Tarbei.
Tarbei insists that the rule change, which came at the peak of his career, shattered his dream of becoming among the best para-athletes in the world, both at Paralympics and the Olympics.
“I was not to change from Paralympics to Olympics but I wanted to double just like Oscar Pistorius of South Africa used to do but that now is a story of the past," he reveals.
IPC changed the events in the T46 category where the longest event is 400m while Tarbei is best in 5,000m, 1,500m and 800m.
“They (IPC) introduced another class removing my preferred middle and long-distance races with the longest being 400m, in addition to 200m and 100m. I cannot manage to compete in the one-lap race,” says a disappointed Tarbei.
"Those people killed my career. I have struggled to provide for my family since," added Tarbei as he received food rations through an initiative by the Ministry of Sport and Eliud Kipchoge Foundation aimed at cushioning athletes against the measures instituted by the government in the fight against COVID-19.
He says he first got wind of the changes during the 2012 London Olympics but nobody made a point of explaining the new rules and the impact it would have on individual runners.
“We thought they will add more events from the usual 30 classes or shift some events or introduce another class but they did not do that. They introduced T47 as a new event and 400m to be the main and longest event in T46 which affected us so much,” says Tarbei adding that even though they shortchanged them, he has not lost hope.
Surprisingly, Tarbei was not born disabled.
“I was born a normal kid but I got burns in a house fire while I was still very young," he reveals.
Tarbei schooled at Chomisia Primary in Nandi County and Kombe Secondary school in Nairobi.
It is while at Kombe that he started running in the 3,000m steeplechase and had a successful career that saw him picked to represent the country at the All Africa Games in Abuja, Nigeria where he won silver in the 800m.
The couple is blessed with two daughters Golden Victory Cherop and Joy Jepchirchir. Golden is the firstborn and her name is in remembrance of Tarbei's win at the All African Games in Mozambique.
“While I was competing in Maputo, my wife gave birth to a beautiful daughter. I was under pressure to win a gold medal and I was also hoping that my wife would deliver successfully. Both turned out successful,” he chuckles.
He says the most memorable of his numerous wins remains the London Paralympics where he broke the world record in 1,500m at 3:50.15 from 3:52.50.
He said: “In that competition, I was the only other Kenyan to break a world record after Rudisha (David 800m record-holder), who had done it during the Olympics,” he enthused.
London Olympics remains one of Kenya's poorest outings as they clinched just two gold medals, a significant drop from the six they had bagged in Beijing four years earlier.
"Even athletes from other countries kept asking me what had gone wrong with Kenyans. We had never experienced the desperation of such magnitude. But deep within me, I knew something good was to come out and this I did by winning a gold medal in a world record time,” he says.