It has taken me almost a week to get over Samuel Wanjiru’s tragic death,since Monday morning when i heard about it i couldn’t stop asking myself why the young man died in such a manner.I have scoured the internet reading the articles and forums discussing the circumstances surrounding his sad demise and still there aren’t any answers that can explain it.The ensuing drama and controversy among his immediate and extended family has not made things any better and at this rate he will be remembered as much as for the records he broke as well as for the manner in which he lived and died.
I never met Samuel but having watched him for the first time as he won Kenya’s first gold at the Olympics in Beijing in 2008.At a steady pace he entered the stadium amidst cheers from the huge crowds attending the games.When he got to the finish line,he made the sign of the cross then knelt on the track head bowed as if in prayer.At 21 he was the youngest ever marathon champion since 1932.
Then last year he went and did his magic at the Chicago marathon,which he won for the second time.Just before he went to Chicago for what was to be his last marathon,he appeared on the comedy show Churchill live and the host Daniel Ndambuki (Churchill)asked him for a favour,that when he won the Marathon he would make a two finger salute just so Churchill)could remember he had been on the show.He went won the race and Churchill got his salute.When the show was aired this past Thursday Churchill played clips from the interview and he sterling finish at the Chicago Marathon in October and i teared up.I could not help crying for this young man who met such a ad end at such a tender age.
For the first time,i realized what a troubled young man he was.Like all child prodigy’s he had problems.These children ,young men and women who show extraordinary ability and talent face so many problem including self esteem and anxiety issues.The BBC had a beautiful article in 2006 highlighting the problems these children face and you can read it here
Samuel had all the classic signs of a troubled young man but the people around him seemed to have missed all the signs.At 24 he had money in his account that would take me several life times to earn,drove top of the range cars and lived in a lavish house,he was rolling in money as Americans would say.But he was also battling with alcohol abuse,marital problems and just early this year he was taken to court by the woman we knew as his wife Teresia Njeri.Kamau was accused of threatening his wife,security guard and domestic help with an unlicensed AK 47,the wife was also seeking separation and financial support.She later dropped the charges and the couple reconciled on the 14th of February this year.
If you are reading this and remember watching the sitcom Different Strokes in the late 80’s you will recall Arnold(Gary Coleman) and Willis(Todd Bridges) who played African American brothers who were adopted by a wealthy business man Mr Drummond(Conrad Bain) who had a daughter named Kimberly(Dana Plato).The comedy was a hit and garnered the child starts immense popularity.
However for the child stars their lives were a far from the perfect,all of them except for Willis(Todd Bridges)are alive today.Dana Plato died from a drug over dose at just 34,Gary Coleman died from complications resulting from his congenital autoimmune kidney disease at 42 years.Dana had been arrested twice for armed robbery and for forging a prescription while Gary’s life featured legal battles with his parents for financial mismanagement,troubled marriage,assault charges and disorderly conduct.Todd Bridges while still alive has battled drug abuse but eventually he cleaned himself up.
Without laying any blame on any one person for Samuel’s death it is at least clear that somehow we missed the symptoms of the inner struggles he had.The athletic industry being the cut throat business it is pushes athletes to be nothing but the best ,care should be taken that these young people at the camps are not pushed to the precipice.The sudden thrust to stardom when they break world records maybe too much for these young people who still haven’t matured emotionally enough to handle such stress and pressure to perform.Even the lavish lifestyles they follow after winning millions at the races maybe too much for them.They are being forced to grow ip so quickly with society and the country expecting so much of them that we are seeing 20 year old men being forced to act like they are 40 years.
Something i am sure of is that this should be a wake up call for the athletics body in Kenya,the mangers who train the athletes,parents and older athletic fraternity to take a careful look at the way these young talented boys and girls are being brought up.They need to be nurtured,mentored and managed in such a manner that they are allowed to be children and to mature like any normal child and in an environment devoid of pressure and the stress of bringing home medals and cash.It is only be making sure this happens that we will not see another young man walk down the road Kamau walked in his short life.
R.I.P Kamau,you made Kenyan proud.
Tribute from the IAAF on learning of the death of the young Kenyan can be read here.