Waiting for the Tea Leaves to Settle

Frank broke the news late last week—training would be suspended until after the elections. Kibera has a way of becoming a hot spot during election season and a mere presence in the slum can become political. So practice will resume sometime after March 4th.

The Tumaini Sports Initiative’s training has been challenged this year like no other. Resources are scarce; the weather refuses to cooperate; getting nutrition supplements to the students has become difficult due to limited funding and support. A stop watch and training equipment are hard to come by. And now politics are yet another disruption. But the athletes persevere, many of them training on their own when official training is suspended, in hopes of competing in the World Youth Athletic Trials in June.

The global running community is anxiously awaiting the results of Kenya’s election. Ever since the country erupted with violence in 2007, elections are treated with a certain amount of caution. Hotel reservations in the Rift Valley, the famed region where many of the world’s elite complete their high-altitude training, have yet to be confirmed. Running clubs are sending out bulletins on elections and safety. Indeed, our team has had to postpone planning until the elections are over.

Everyone is waiting for the tea leaves to settle.

Following the election, we will finalize plans for our filming schedule this spring. Until then, we’ll hope that peace and democracy prevail, and that we’re back to running soon.

Happy 2013

As we head into 2013 at a full sprint, I find myself searching for time to reflect on what we’ve been able to accomplish this past year, with the help of our tremendous Tumaini Film Project supporters. We produced our first promotional video; we led our first crowd-funding campaign; we worked with runners across the globe to generate support and momentum behind the story by running 150 miles in 30 days; we formed relationships with journalists, elite coaches, and world champion athletes from L.A. to Nairobi. There have been challenges, too. We planned to film at the Olympics and then had to change course when some of the runners we were planning to follow failed—controversially—to qualify for the Kenyan team. The truth is, like many artists involved with independent projects and full-time jobs, time is my most limited resource, and sometimes I fail to share our progress and successes as a result. I become too concerned with the doing and less concerned with the sharing. Hence, one of my New Year’s resolutions: blog more frequently.

This is going to be a big year for the Tumaini Film Project. Our team rang in the New Year with a directors meeting in Philadelphia. After years of research, relationship building, fundraising, and outreach, we plan to head to Kenya this spring to film a large portion of our documentary. There have been as many challenges on the ground with the running program as we’ve had with production; the rainy season delayed the season and training for months; failure to cut the grass in the field where the students run means the weeds are waist-high; and the many scourges of poverty follow many of the students whether they’re running or not. Though difficult to plan around, I know these challenges are what make this story so important; because Frank and his students are doing something incredible despite all odds.

Thank you to everyone who has helped us get this far—we couldn’t do it without you.

“If you want to win something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon.”

Emil Zatopek, as quoted in “Running with the Kenyans.”

A few months ago in a Kenyan-runner-research-frenzy, I read about Adharanand Finn, a journalist who set off on an amazing adventure to “discover the secrets of the fastest people on earth.” A regular Runner‘s World contributor, he packed up his family and moved to Kenya to see if he could, in fact, run with the Kenyans and discover what makes them the best runners on the planet. Was it altitude? The poverty? The bare-feet? The ugali? The rest?

“Running with the Kenyans” is a story told in beautiful detail; our legs ache after his painstakingly long morning runs, our lungs burn when he races the Kenyans for the first time. His curiosity, passion, and commitment are contagious. Its a fascinating read for runners and non-runners alike, though it will hold a special place in the hearts anyone who has ever shared his dream of running with the Kenyans.

“Running with the Kenyans” comes out in the States May 15th, but you can pre-order it on Amazon. Check it out!

Big Day

On May 1st, the TUMAINI FILM PROJECT will be launching our campaign on Indiegogo. I will join 14 other inspiring athletes as we run 150 miles in 30 days to generate support for the film. More details on these remarkable individuals to come, but in the meantime, check out our promo video and let us know what you think!

For the Love of the Sport

The theme of our film—the transformative power of athletics—came to me honestly. I am a believer. I come from an athletic family; the Finucanes took to basketball like the Kennedys took to football.  My Dad and I have played pick-up games in the driveway for as long as I can remember. It’s the game we play on holidays, at picnics and parties. In fact, our games are legendary for their competitiveness and for the fact that no one seems to let a little thing like a graduation party get in the way of bloody noses, broken fingers, and Dennis Rodman-like saves off the court that result in tumbles down the treacherous hill in our backyard.  Despite my love of the game, the gospel of track and field found me at age 10; suddenly I had a new purpose for my long arms and awkwardly long strides. I realized I could circle a track faster and throw a shot-put further than most of the boys in my class, and just like that: I became a believer.

It wasn’t long before track and field became the most important thing in my life and would occupy that space for most of the next decade. I saw the world through the lens of an optimistic athlete: no obstacles were insurmountable, no goals unattainable. Evenings and weekends were spent at the track; outside of my parents, who graciously drove me to track meets across the eastern seaboard, my coaches were the most influential people in my life. They pushed me to do more, to fight, and to believe. Training was as much mental as it was physical; resilience became my greatest weapon. Hard work and dedication yielded positive results.  From middle school and through my career as a college athlete, some of my happiest moments were spent on the track.

However, like most love affairs, there were challenges. My all-or-nothing attitude occasionally produced agonizing, inconsolable defeats.  My dogged approach to training led to injuries, of which there were many: gravel ground into knees after an unforgiving hurdle workout; a torn biceps-anchor from too many throws of the javelin and shot-put. When I had to red shirt a season my junior year after shoulder surgery, it felt like a prison sentence.  I was devastated. And yet, once again, the resilience and dedication instilled in me paid off; my senior year season finished with a storybook ending at our final championship meet.

Now, as a retired track and field athlete-turned-marathon runner, things are different, not only because I don’t win anymore (I never have been much of a distance athlete), but because there are other priorities in my life. I don’t practice for 3+ hours a day; I don’t compete once a week. But I am able to appreciate the gifts and the lessons that the sport provided me over the years:  the journey has been just as important as the destination, the practice just as a meaningful as the meet. To this day, nothing brings me more peace of mind than a run.

In my most stubborn, unrelenting moments, my boyfriend tells me my approach to life is the same as it was as a competitive athlete.  It’s true; my approach is dogged, a bit scrappy. Though the obstacles and goals have changed, I still see them as surmountable and attainable. I’m inclined to think that for the most part, that’s not such a bad thing.

From Timbuktu to Washington, Female Filmmakers Unite

One particularly mild evening last week, I had the pleasure of attending a documentary roundtable discussion hosted by Women in Film and Video (WIFV), an organization dedicated to advancing the professional development and achievement for women working in all areas of film, television, video, multimedia and related disciplines. The discussion was led by the three remarkable women behind Essakane, a film about ‘the most remote music festival in the world– the Festival au Désert– and the battle to make it happen.’  It was a fantastic opportunity to have a meaningful discussion with other independent filmmakers and cinephiles from the DC metro- area.

The women behind Essakane confirmed that documentary filmmaking is indeed a labor of love. They shared the hard lessons they learned throughout their adventure, from crowd-funding, to visa issues, and the perils of an international shoot. Their team masterfully bobbed and weaved their way from Timbuktu across the desert, unconventionally generating the resources they needed to make their beautiful film a reality. It was particularly useful to hear from a team that has overcome the challenges of filmmaking in a resource-limited setting, a challenge I am anxiously anticipating.

Being a documentary filmmaker can be a rather isolating experience, particularly in the pre-production phase when so much time is spent researching, writing, planning, and fundraising. However the energy in the room the night of the roundtable was electric, the love of this art– palpable. I have already connected with some of the women I met there and they have generously gone out of their way to offer support. I am grateful for organizations like WIFV that offer independent filmmakers such a beautiful, inclusive community.

Take a minute to check out the Essakane film trailer— I promise its a lovely way to end the week.

The Beginning of the End of AIDS

Today the global AIDS pandemic is at a tipping point. Due to improved access to medicine, better care, lower costs, and smart interventions, for the first time since AIDS was discovered thirty years ago we have an opportunity to outpace the disease. I am inspired by the governments, NGOs, activists, businesses, and individuals across the globe who have made a commitment to live in a world where we will see the end of AIDS.

One-fifth of the people living in Kibera are HIV positive. More than 50,000 children in the slum have been orphaned by AIDS, many of whom are the athletes Frank trains every day.  On this World AIDS Day, we celebrate our success, commemorate those we’ve lost, and pledge to continue the fight.

Go here to read more about the beginning of the end of AIDS.

“I always loved running…it was something you could do by yourself, and under your own power. You could go in any direction, fast or slow as you wanted, fighting the wind if you felt like it, seeking out new sights just on the strength of your feet and the courage of your lungs.”

-Jesse Owens

Frederick

Today in Kibera, a slum that’s home to 1.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), 15 year old Fredrick Oloo dribbles a soccer ball in the blistering sun. He springs left, right, left– like a tiger in a cage– effortlessly handling the ball with his bare feet.  When he pauses and looks up, his face melts into an infectious smile. Like many boys his age, Fredrick dreams of one day being a professional athlete.  However beneath his agreeable exterior there are scars, symbolic of the violence that rocked Kenya after disputed elections in December 2007. Like many of the 400,000 young people living in Kibera, the political unrest left Fredrick an orphan.

Frederick Oloo looks on at his best friend's funeral

Fredrick is no stranger to loss. His father walked out on his family six years ago leaving his HIV positive mother Atieno to fend for herself and her three children. When Kibera exploded into violence, she suffered a wound while running to safety; with no access to proper healthcare the injury would prove to be fatal.

Fredrick now lives with his older brother in a shack constructed of sheet metal and mud. Their family can barely afford to put food on the table let alone pay the $200 annual fee to enroll Fredrick into high school. Instead he works along side his brother selling bread most mornings and watches his peers walk to school and pursue a life that was once his.

Violence is a daily concern for Frederick and the millions of people living in the slum. Because Kibera is an illegal settlement, there is little assistance, protection, or law enforcement provided by the government. As such, Kiberans exist in lawless limbo. Just two years ago, Frederick’s fifteen-year-old best friend was hacked to death by a gang armed with a meat hook.

Fredrick mourns the loss of his mother and his best friend but says life must continue. When asked about the violence he grows quiet and explains that like many others he was caught in the crossfire. Though he has learned to live with grief, he is adamant that the violence must never happen again. A model of resilience, he dreams of reclaiming his destiny by excelling in sports. For a young person like Fredrick, whose sprinting prowess is that on an Olympian in the making, one man is working to make that dream a reality…