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Jan. 14, 2008
The secret to being a great athlete, many coaches will tell you, has more to do with focus than athleticism. Coaches work with athletes for years, trying to prepare them for different situations, how to react, how to overcome, how to persevere, how to work through distractions.
Some things, though, you can't prepare for. A coach can prepare an athlete for overcoming losses and injuries. They can't prepare an athlete for the depths of tragedy, the fear of anarchy, the trials of injustice.
Freshman Emily Tangwar was well-prepared during her first cross country season at USC Upstate. Assistant coach Ed Schlichter worked on a game plan for every race, and at the end of the season, she had won her first collegiate race (the Citadel Invitational on Sept. 27) and took second at the Atlantic Sun Championships on Oct. 27 to earn Atlantic Sun Freshman of the Year honors. Tangwar's season was a great start for USC Upstate's program, in its first year of track and field and first year back in cross country after a four-year absence on campus.
However, it's the things a coach can't prepare you for that Tangwar has on her mind now.
Tangwar, a member of the Kalenjin tribe, waited on Dec. 26 for the results of the election in her native Kenya while on semester break in Florence, S.C. She waited past the time they were supposed to be announced, past any reasonable time for a national election to take. The rest of her nation waited to and when the results came out, with incumbent Mwai Kibaki winning the election by a narrow 250,000 votes, she sensed what many others did.
"The one thing I knew was that in Kenya, people are expecting change," Tangwar said. "I knew that there were a lot of things happening in our government, like corruption. Tribalism was getting high. Everyone was expecting change through the elections, but when the results came out and the same people were in power, the reaction was to fight."
She knew something was wrong, and as reports came out that the election results were tampered with, Tangwar, like many others in Kenya, said she felt cheated. However, she was 7,500 miles away. So she waited for news. She tried to reach her parents in Eldoret in Western Kenya and couldn't get through. She waited, impatiently.
"After the results were announced, it was like everything had closed down," Tangwar said. "There were problems when I wanted to call home. I'd call and it said the country code had changed. It really affected me. That really bothers you when you are far from home. After about two hours, I did get through. People I knew from Kenya were calling and were having the same problems."
An independent country since 1963, Kenya was under British and Portugese rule since the 1800s, as the two European nations carved Kenya out of land that at one time belonged to 23 separate tribes. For much of the next 25 years, the country was ruled under a single-party system, until in 1992, elections were held under a multiple-party system. Still, Daniel arap Moi, who had held control of the presidency since 1978, easily held control of the post until 2002, when he was barred from running for the position again. In 2002, Kibaki won the post in what were considered free and fair elections.
In 2005, a new constitution was soundly defeated in Parliament, making many in a country split by tribalism and local corruption, disillusioned with Kibaki's administration. On Dec. 26, when Kibaki's presidency was on the line against Raila Odinga, who drew the support of many of the tribes that weren't Kibaki's Kikuyus tribe, many in the country felt it was time for a change. Reports, from sources including the New York Times and BBC, have claimed the results were rigged in Kibaki's favor. Before a recount could occur, Kibaki was sworn in as president.
It was then that violence broke out. In a nation split by many tribes, the Kikuyus, who were members of Kibaki's tribe, found themselves under attack. During demonstrations against the administration, it has been claimed that police have opened fire on the protestors.
"People are still demanding one thing from the government," Tangwar said, "and that is justice."
In a country renowned for its Olympic-quality long-distance runners, many have fled, or are scared to go on their normal runs due to the violence. One former Olympian, Lucas Sang, was killed and another, Luke Kibet, was injured when a rock hit him in the head during a run.
Tangwar's hometown of Eldoret, in Western Kenya, has also been affected, with thousands of Kikiyus fleeing their burned homes and taking refuge outside the city. Reports of genocide have also come from the town.
Tangwar said she never used to worry about politics very much. Now, it's at the front of her mind. While at a friend's house for the semester break in Florence, Tangwar said after the election, she was so worried, she had to leave earlier than planned to just get back to Spartanburg.
"I couldn't stay anymore," Tangwar said. "I felt like I should just be in my room. I felt like if I could just be back in Spartanburg, it would make me feel safe."
Tangwar said she has never seen violence on this scale. However, she said, at the end of the academic year, she is more than ready to go home, where she will get to see her parents, three brothers and five sisters. Then, Tangwar can see her family and see that they are safe, although she said she talks to them every night.
"They can move in their surroundings," Tangwar said of her family, "but there is tension everywhere."
And hopefully, for all in Kenya, by then, there will be a resolution and peace.
"I don't know what the situation will be when I get back," Tangwar said, "but I know people are fighting for justice and believe that things will work out well."
- By Assistant Media Relations Director Joe Guistina