by Paul Chelimo
When I used to see people cry out of happiness, I always got confused.
To me, it never made much sense – until this year. In January my whole life changed – the day my baby daughter entered the world. She arrived at St Francis Hospital in Colorado Springs, about a mile from my house, and the moment she was born I started crying straight away.
Parenthood? I didn’t really prepare for it. My wife was always the one reading books, while I just decided to wing it. Even though everyone tells you your life will always be different, harder, at first I thought: this is easy.
Because it was.
But over time, you realise how tough it is. That’s just reality. The first few months were simple because my wife was always around and my Mom came over from Kenya to help out, but from four months on it got harder.
My wife returned to her studies and would be gone from 5am-7pm three days a week. Having to take care of a baby all day and still find time to train? It’s stressful, but a good stress, if that makes sense.
You find a way to adjust. I started making Monday a day off, even though I usually only rested when I absolutely had to. On Thursdays, I’d run whenever my wife got home – if that meant waiting until it was dark, so be it. Fridays are always a workout day so I’d drive my daughter to a friend’s house a half-hour away and allow myself a three-hour window to get my workout in.
Before, I used to always go the gym straight after but this year that had to go. Instead I’d come straight home, and at that point you're often so tired that all you want to do it sleep – a luxury you don’t have with a crying baby that needs care.
Some people think bringing up a child is really a woman’s job, but for us it was always going to be a shared role.
Yes, it’s stressful, but it’s something I cherish, a fulfilment like no other. As an athlete, there are inevitably hard decisions, some concessions to your new life.
Over the past few months I developed a hip problem – not from running, but from holding the baby. She wouldn't sleep by herself, she had to be in my arms, so I always held her and rocked her on my right side. Doing that all day, every day, soon caused me to pick up an injury. It’s the reason this year, at a time when I'm usually in insane shape, I’m still playing catch-up. But that's okay.
In my first race, I finished 12th in Shanghai – way off the pace. Two weeks later I was fifth in Stockholm – again nowhere near where I needed to be. After that, I talked to my wife about me going to Kenya to train, explaining how I needed a solid block of work to get my form back.
That's a tough call to make. I didn’t want to make it look like I didn’t want to take care of the baby, but my wife understood and was very supportive, encouraging me to go. After all, running fast pays the bills.
The very next day I got on a flight to Kenya, and I worried at the time about that decision. My daughter had developed such an attachment that if I left the room for a moment, she would start crying. She was more used to me than even her Mom.
I worried if that attachment would still be there when I got back: would she forget my face?
Being back in Kenya reminded me of how different things are now. When I used to go back there in recent years people would always ask me if I had started a family yet. “You don’t have a kid yet? What’s wrong with you?” I always started laughing because for many years, it was something I never thought about.
But I could feel the difference this time: normally I’m so excited, but this time I didn’t have that. Yes, I have family in Kenya and training there is fun, but I missed going to miss my family, missed a part of my daughter growing up.
But at the same time, I have to take running seriously. It was amazing what one good month of training could do: at the Pre Classic in Stanford last weekend I finished second in the two-mile.
Being there, I could only watch in awe as Faith Kipyegon won the women’s 1500m, her first race back after giving birth last year. I knew that in addition to everything I experienced – the sleepless nights, stress and occasional exhaustion – she had to recover from the physical toll of giving birth.
She was nervous beforehand and I told her to chill, that it will be fine. Afterwards I told her how emotional it made me to see her win.
To do what she did was an inspiration to so many others, and it’s people like her who show me what’s possible. The fact I’m coming into form a little later this year has actually worked better, given the timing of the World Championships, and it’s true what they say: becoming a parent gives you a new purpose.
Nowadays, there’s a reason for me to kick harder than the others, especially guys who don’t have kids. If someone kicks the last lap in 52, then I have to kick it in 51. There’s more responsibility now. I have to pay the bills and take care of my baby.
As a result, I have more grind in me than before and for that, I have my daughter to thank.
Photography: Thomas Byrne