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Kenya’s Tegla Loroupe is a celebrated long distance athlete who is active in the field of peace and women’s rights. She won the world championship for the half-marathon distance three times and was the first African woman to win the New York Marathon. She has also won marathons in many cities, including Berlin, Boston, London, Rome and Rotterdam. She still holds world records for 20, 25 and 30 kilometres.
A member of the Pokot tribe, who live in northern Kenya, her father had four wives and she grew up with 24 brothers and sisters. She spent her childhood working in the fields, tending cattle and looking after younger brothers and sisters. At the age of six, she started school, having to run 10km to and from class and becoming aware of her potential as an athlete. Initially a barefoot runner, she was 16 before she received her first pair of running shoes.
In 1994 and 1998, Loroupe won the 10,000 metres at the Goodwill Games and bronze medals over the same distances at the World Athletics Championships in 1995 and 1999. In 1994, she took part in and won her first major marathon in New York, becoming an icon for many young African women. She also won New York for a second time in 1995 and won in Rotterdam three straight times from 1997 to 1999. She was favourite to win a gold medal in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney in the the marathon, but she was ill the night before the race and could only finish 13th, still insisting on running barefoot.
In 2003, she created an annual series of peace marathons, sponsored by the Tegla Loroupe Foundation, involving warriors and nomadic groups in her native Kenya, Uganda and Sudan, in an effort to bring peace to an area plagued by raiding warriors from battling tribes. She has also established a school and orphanage for children from her own region of Kenya.
A highly committed woman, in 2006 she was named a United Nations sport ambassador and travelled with American actors George Clooney and Don Cheadle to Beijing, Cairo and New York on a diplomatic mission to bring an end to violence in Darfur. She is also an international ambassador for the International Association of Athletics Federations, UNICEF and is a member of Monaco-based ‘Champions for Peace’, a group of 54 famous athletes committed to creating peace in the world.