Tavengwa reveals secret to stardom

HARARE - Zimbabwe's top female long distance athlete Sharon Tavengwa’s fairytale run began in an unorthodox fashion in Chirumhanzu when she pretended to be a boy for her talent to be recognised.

Tavengwa’s chance to be noticed came when one of the boys making up the four by 400 metres under-12 relay team scheduled to compete in the district championships was disqualified for age-cheating.

And because everyone knew Tavengwa as a talented girl, she pulled a fast one by posing as a boy and was drafted into the boys’ relay team.

“I had to pretend to be a boy at that moment but that wasn’t easy at all,” Tavengwa tells the Daily News.

“That was four by 400m. I started the race and I am telling you I was just moving, I really don’t know how I did it, but I made it. That’s when everyone took me seriously and they began to see my talent.”

Tavengwa’s adventure of posing as a boy athlete was the beginning of a successful long distance running career.

She began to participate regularly in major cross country championships while using the prize money she won to pay her school fees.

Her unique talent earned her an International Olympic Committee scholarship in 2003 which allowed her to travel to Kenya.

In Kenya, she received mentorship from former Dutch Marathon Champion Lucien Alcon Krotwaar to kick start her illustrious marathon career.

The hard running Tavengwa took the long distance world by storm.

The Chiundura-born athlete continues to ride on a wave of success that has endeared her to teammates and opponents alike.

In her bountiful trophy cabinet, Tavengwa boasts of the Nedbank Bloemfontein half-marathon, Nedbank Cape Town City marathon which she won twice on the trot as well top prizes in the Soweto, Durban, Puerto Rico South America, Cape Town marathons as well as the Marqueteloop and Zwolle half marathons amongst others.

“My highest peak ever was 2010. That was the best year in my career because I achieved four podium positions,” she says.

The 1,57m tall athlete would make her maiden Olympic appearance at the 2012 London Games where she unfortunately fell out halfway through the 42km event.

The rain-soaked marathon was won by Tiki Gelana of Ethiopia in 2:23:07 with Kenya’s Priscah Jeptoo coming second in 2:23:12. Russian Tatyana Arkhi finished third.

In 2011, Tavengwa got married to her former coach Krotwaarand and is now based in Eindhoven, Holland.

Despite her marriage to the Dutch athletics coach, Tavengwa has maintained the citizenship of her country of birth.

“Where ever you go never forget your people. My people will always remain my people; my home will always be home, where I started my career is where I will end it,” Tavengwa says.

“I am proud to be a Zimbabwean. I know because I am a married woman now people think I should change my citizenship but I haven’t done that and my man is happy with that.”

But for all her success, the Chiundura-born Tavengwa credits her mother for playing a pivotal role in shaping her career.

“I don’t only run for a living but I do it for my mother,” she says.

“My mom introduced me to running. She was a tough woman. She taught me everything; she showed me what life is and how to be tough.”

“I also want to be a role model for women particularly those who do not believe they can do it in life. I play sport to prove that as a woman you can earn a living through sport.”

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