The world of track and field lost a rising star when Agnes Tirop, a talented 25-year-old distance runner representing Kenya, tragically met her end on October 13, 2021. Tirop, who had showcased her prowess at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in the women’s 5,000 meters and subsequently set a world record for the 10K, was discovered fatally stabbed at her home in Iten, Kenya. Her husband, Ibrahim Rotich, was charged with her murder after attempting to flee the country.

Her untimely death shed light once again on the prevalent issue of gender-based violence (GBV), a grave violation of human rights affecting individuals globally. GBV, encompassing physical, sexual, and economic harm, often thrives through intimate partner violence, coercion, and threats, placing women and girls at higher risk worldwide.

In Kenya, Tirop’s home country, Nairobi’s Gender-Based Violence Recovery Centre reports disturbing statistics, with over 40 percent of Kenyan women experiencing GBV in their lifetimes. Shockingly, one in three women in Kenya suffers sexual violence before the age of 18. Similarly, the United States contends with domestic violence, affecting millions annually.

Even accomplished female athletes like Tirop aren’t immune to these dangers. Many Kenyan professional runners find themselves in controlling or abusive relationships, jeopardizing their independence and safety.

However, Tirop’s tragic demise spurred action within the athletic community. Mary Ngugi, a 34-year-old Kenyan marathoner with over a decade of professional racing under her belt, decided to make a difference. Harnessing her influence as an athlete, Ngugi founded the Nala Track Club in Nyahururu Town, Kenya, in October 2022. The club’s core objective is to provide refuge and guidance to young girls striving for education while nurturing aspirations of becoming elite runners.

Unlike conventional training setups, Nala prioritizes education alongside athletic training, aiming to empower its members to make informed decisions and embrace their autonomy.

Ngugi’s vision extends beyond athletic prowess. She’s dedicated to instilling financial literacy and life skills, ensuring these girls are equipped to navigate potential athletic careers wisely while securing their future.

Moreover, Ngugi is breaking barriers in coaching circles by aiming to cultivate female coaching talent in Kenya. She mentors local women aspiring to coach female runners, challenging prevalent gender norms in sports leadership.

In a year, Nala Track Club’s membership has doubled, gaining support from Nike. Ngugi divides her time between the UK and Kenya, overseeing the camp’s operations, and actively mentoring coaches to develop a holistic training program. Her aim isn’t solely to produce star athletes but to empower young women to become influential figures in their communities.

Through Ngugi’s unwavering commitment, the Nala Track Club stands as a beacon of hope, striving to create a safer and more empowering environment for aspiring female athletes in Kenya.