“Nala is an African name for a powerful woman or a lionness,” says Mary Ngugi. “We want these girls to be that. Strong, powerful, someone who can say, ‘no, I’m not doing that.’” Ngugi’s mission is clear: to empower female athletes in Kenya and provide them a safe space to train.
Mary Ngugi and her inspiration to start Nala Track Club
The inspiration, sadly, was borne from tragedy. Agnes Tirop was a Kenyan professional long-distance runner. She excelled in the 10,000m distance, winning bronze at the World Athletics Championships in both 2017 and 2019. Tirop was Ngugi’s former team-mate.
In October 2021, the rising star was found dead in her home. Her husband is currently awaiting trial for her murder. But this is a story that is sadly not uncommon. In Ngugi’s own words, female athletes in Kenya are, “being abused by men. Harassed, intimidated, not able to be themselves.”
It was this injustice that was the ‘final straw’ for Ngugi to launch her girls-only running camp: Nala Track Club. “I’ve always wanted to change what is happening, not just in athletics but also in the society.”
Challenging the status quo
Nala Track Club was officially launched in October 2022, and now supports eight girls and women between the ages of 14 and 22.
Ngugi aims to challenge the status quo in her home country with regards to women and their place in society. “Everyone is repeating the same: you just need to be a wife, you just need to be a better mother. You can be more than that – you can be a mother and an athlete.”
This is something that rings true not just in Kenya, but for female athletes around the world. Athletes have been campaigning tirelessly for equal treatment when pregnant and becoming new mothers. This year, following campaigning by figure-heads in the community, Boston Marathon announced a landmark deferral policy update for pregnant athletes.
hope for the future
Initiatives like the one set up by Ngugi are hugely important for allowing women to not only excel as athletes, but to thrive as women. “I would like in 10 years to see more camps like this,” Ngugi told BBC News. “If other people can come up and start one or two, that’s my dream come true.”
With these camps led by strong women, as well as fearless campaigning by those closer to home such as Sophie Power and Tasha Thompson, there are lots of positive steps being taken for women in the world of sports and athletics.