•The Wamiras have braved the lack of foundational facilities for elite athletes and have risen to the occasion, conquering Africa during the inaugural Africa Deaf Athletics Championships
•Both David and Beryl agree that the journey hasn’t been smooth since their formative years in athletics.
The Wamira siblings of sprinters David, Beryl and Rael might be deaf but they are abled differently. Being different has not deterred them from excelling in life.
The Wamiras have braved the lack of foundational facilities for elite athletes and have risen to the occasion, conquering Africa during the inaugural Africa Deaf Athletics Championships held in Nairobi in September. Born in Rarieda, Bondo, Siaya County in a family of eight siblings, the trio, alongside their father Bartholomew Oketch Wamira are deaf.
At the Africa Deaf Athletics, both David and Beryl ruled proceedings in the sprints with the former winning gold in the 200m and the latter running away with the winners’ medal in both 100m and 200m women’s races. They were also part of the 4x400m and 4x100m relay team in the continental showpiece.
On the other hand, Rael, a first-time mother didn’t feature in her specialities (100m and 200m) at the Championships, opting to attend to her maternal duties. David, 29, was excited about their performances at the Africa Deaf Athletics Championships noting that it means a lot to them and their family. “We always look forward to such events. In deaf athletics, we don’t have many championships so when the chance presents itself, we give it our best shot,” noted David through sign language interpreter Jane Mwangi of Emmanuel Church for the Deaf.
Beryl, 24, is the world junior 200m deaf athletics record holder of 24:46 set in Sofia, Bulgaria during the World Junior Deaf Athletics in August 2013. She is the first Kenyan deaf athlete ever to win a gold medal at the world stage. On the other hand, David’s top achievement is winning a silver medal in men’s 200m at the 2013 World Deaf Athletics Championships in Toronto Canada.
In the maiden African championships at Kasarani in September, the two siblings put up a sterling performance in the sprints. David timed 23.73secs to win the men’s 200m as his sister Beryl bagged two diadems in both 100m and 200m races clocking winning times of 12:87secs and 26.17secs respectively.
They also were part of relay teams that garnered gold for the country. In the men’s 4x400m race, David teamed up with Simon Gona, Mwenda Nzioki and Charles Atima to win in 3:24.55 while Beryl alongside Linet Nanjala, Paul Simiyu and Elisha Wekesa won the 4x100m mixed relays. The two bemoaned Rael’s absence on the track at the continental showpiece, saying it would have been nice to shine together with her.
“I used to follow sports through newspapers and TV and I was really inspired by what sportsmen and women in Kenya were doing.
That was my motivation despite the challenges I had,” said David, whose namesake two-time Olympic 800m gold medallist and world record holder David Rudisha’s feat at the global arena awakened the desire to conquer the world on the track too.
David started athletics as the age of 14 while in Class eight at Nyangoma School for the Deaf, while Beryl ventured in the arena in class four at the same institution.
David later joined Fr. Ouderaa’s Special School for the Deaf, Bondo, where he completed his ‘O’ level education. His sister, on the other hand, proceeded to Mumias School for the Deaf (High School) for one year and returned to Fr. Ouderaa’s SSD to complete her ‘O’ levels.
The duo attended Karen Technical College in Nairobi, where David studied General Agriculture and Beryl enrolled to attain a certificate as an artisan and upon completion, embarked on craft and she has since finished Module One. Her education had been sponsored by the Sisters (nuns) of Nyangoma, but she has been forced to stay at home to source for money before she can continue with Module Two after she defaulted on paying her fees at the College. While in college, the two would still train on the available fields but without a coach. Beryl, however, would once in a while get the free coaching services from Caroline Kola.
The trio of David, Beryl and Rael are born to peasant parents and David says that is why they strive to do well on the track. The third-born notes that since they started representing Kenya internationally, life started to look up for their parents. Beryl is the fifth-born, while Rael is seventh in the family of eight children. “My parents are very poor so we work hard on the track to uplift their standards. So far, we have been able to build them a house and started an agribusiness venture for mum since together with dad, they stay at home. Recently, I bought dad cows so he is occupied with tending to them,” said David. Kevin Wamira, the first-born in the family works with the County Government of Kisumu and has been of great assistance to the trio. As intimated by David, the elder Wamira son has hosted them including when they are on transit to Nairobi, to college or for deaf athletics events. Another brother John Wamira is a footballer with a local village team in Rarieda, while Kennedy Wamira plays volleyball at Moi University, where he studies. Rita Wamira is a chef and David was full of praise for her— intimating that she prepares very sumptuous meals for the family.
“When she cooks, we smell the aroma of the food from far away,” notes David smiling from ear-to-ear. Rael and Samuel take the last two places respectively in the family chronology.
Beryl, who enjoys watching soap operas, appreciates her sister-in-law (Kevin’s wife) who interprets for her the proceedings in the TV programs in sign language. She says not everyone in the village knows how to communicate through sign language but they can sign in their mother tongue- Dholuo- and lip-read.
Both David and Beryl agree that the journey hasn’t been smooth since their formative years in athletics. They speak of neither having (professional) coaches nor well-manicured fields or better still a tartan track in their county (Siaya).
They do not enjoy the privilege of the government’s decree that granted persons living with disabilities free access to sports stadia around the country since there is none in Rarieda.
“In the village, we train without a coach and on the available field however bad they may be. Most of the time the grounds we train on are football pitches which are neither landscaped nor manicured well for athletics,” said David, an ardent Manchester United FC fan who occasionally indulges in football for fun.
Beryl added: “If we can only have the government—both county and national—putting up standard training grounds across the country, we (athletes) will do better in competitions. The frequency of injuries will reduce significantly and we’ll have lengthened careers.”
Along the line, she sustained a hip injury in 2017 which was checked and got a clean bill of health but it still nags. Beryl, who is inspired by the legendary Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, says she has no complaints about the hip while running but experiences pain when she is seated though few and far between. She intimates that her mother advised her not to take painkillers but instead opt for massage to ease the pain.
David relishes the idea of being a coach for deaf athletes when he calls it to quit on the track. He, however, hopes to win at least one gold medal for Kenya in the 200m at the world stage and also be part of a golden 4x400m relay team before hanging his spikes.
“In future, I’d like to go to college and train as a coach for deaf athletics. We always have an interpreter during training (national team camps) so it will be good for deaf athletes to have a deaf coach. Won’t that be cool? This will also save on time and resources,” noted the sprinter. “Talented youths are coming up in the sprints so I have to exit the stage. But before then, I have to win my country a gold medal,” continued David.
On the other hand, Beryl says she wants to be an administrator of Deaf Sports after the current generation calls it a day in office. The Africa double gold medallist admires Miriam Opondo who was the Chief Executive Officer of the Local Organising Committee of the inaugural Africa Deaf Athletics Championships in September and Beryl would love to emulate her.
“I really admire Miriam (Opondo) and I would like to be like her; to lead and manage the federation and big events in the future. She has mastered what she does and executes them seamlessly well,” Beryl praised Opondo. David advises the youthful deaf athletes to stay focused on their running career to be successful on the track. He notes that guidance is the key. “The youths should get a role model or someone who can guide them through their careers and success will follow,” he concludes.