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“Every child runs; I upgraded my favorite game to my profession”

On June 4th 1994 Kokob Tesfagaber was born and 22 years later now, has become the pride of Eritrean athletics. She is young and beautiful. But most importantly she is decent, humble and hardworking. The world might as well be ready for this tremendous marathoner.

She sees past her tendon problems and smartly attempts to improve her time. She is a girl of devotion who got home a big number of national and international medals and awards. Meet Kokob, 2017’s Numa Award winner and the only Eritrean female marathoner at the moment. We’ll be focusing not on her technical scores but on the kind of person she is on a personal level.

  • Did you always know you were going to be a marathoner?

No. I didn’t even know I wanted to be an athlete. Every child runs. You know, it’s how children play. When I was young I run a lot for fun; I had a playful childhood with my friends and neighbors. When you start growing up, you don’t run much. You rather walk, ride a bike or go for public transportation. But in my case, I never stopped. When I run errands for my mother I run. I run to go to school. I run to the shop. I just run. And I remember being a big fan of Nebiat Habtemariam, but I did not want to be like her. I simply liked watching her races on TV. That’s all.

  • So to when do you trace back the beginning of your profession?

To when I was in 8th grade. But before that in 6th grade, my school organized a 400 meters race competition and my friends suggested I should participate. I got in first place. After that I started participating in more competitions against other schools, I normally won first place, and that caught the attention of my very first trainer, athlete Isaak Netseraab. He came to me one day and asked me if I dreamed of being an athlete. I told him no, but that I didn’t mind running. He then realized that I knew little about athletics. He enlightened me on the topic and so I stopped running to shops and began running in tracks.

  • How was it at first? Did you jump to stardom just like that?

I would love it if you don’t refer to me with big titles like ‘star’ or anything. Because me, I am just doing what I am good at. I bite my teeth and go forward, but I just don’t think I have reached that stage of ‘stardom’ as you refer to it. I am grateful for the people’s respect and love. Therefore, instead of bragging about what I have and what I have achieved, I just want to promise my fans and people that I will work hard to sustain my performance aiming to improve my record by the day and also make all of you proud of me.
If I am to answer your question of how it was at first, I’d have to say that I took small steps. What I mean is that when I first started training I aimed for 400 meters and 800 meters. In a short time I scored well and was able of set to set a good record for myself.

  • What about school?

I quit. I had to. I wasn’t able to attend class on regular schedule, so I stopped and totally focused on training and athletics. Athletics is not just about running, it does involve some learning too, so I guess I can say that I stopped academics for a full commitment to athletics.

  • Did your parents oppose the idea of you quitting school?

Of course. My father passed away when I was three so I don’t remember him much. Nevertheless my mother was furious. Plus the mentality our community has is tormenting. A girl doesn’t run. She is not supposed to run. That is what they believe. It is a convention that we’ll have to change as a community. Back to my mom. She did argue against me dropping school for sport at first but then she stopped. Luckily my older brothers and sisters convinced her for me. They understood from beginning that I could be somewhere big in the future. It was actually thanks to them that I was encouraged to follow my passion. In time my mother started being proud of me. She supports me in all possible ways. She doesn’t wake me up until I wake up on my own. She cooks my meal based on the diet I am required to follow and what not. My mom is the pillar to my success.

  • What was the next step?

I run for 1500 meters and got 4:35. In 2014 I moved to junior level and scored first in a 5000 race organized for time trials. Every time I performed, well, I’d advance to another field. I didn’t stay long in one field. In 2015 I was getting ready for the African League in Congo when another athlete called Rahma Mohamed got back to Eritrea from Kenya after training. She didn’t have time but I was told she was going to go in my place because she had good score in time trials. I was devastated, I had worked hard getting ready for 5k, but that race was snatched from me just like that. I asked for her IAAF’s official score but I was denied access. I gave up. The office was telling me to go for half marathon. But that was impossible for me. The furthest I had run was 10k. I didn’t want to go to an international race and embarrass myself, so I had almost given up. The next day I was walking with my head down and tears in my eyes, athlete Zeri Senay recognized me from far and approached me. He asked me why I was crying, I told him why. He smiled and told me I was wasting my tears for nothing. He convinced me to instead participate and stop in the middle of the race if anything was to happen. I agreed, I went and run for half a marathon. I stood 6th. It was incredible.

  • Wow! That was unexpected.

Totally. Prior to the race date I trained twice a day and got in the race. The least I hoped was for me to finish the race even in 5 hours. Once the race started I clenched my teeth and went on, 15 kilometers in the race I was at a time gap of 55 minutes back from the leading team. Back home, I told myself I was made for half marathon. Ever since then, I have trained day and night and upgraded myself every time. When my time got better I decided to run full marathon and here I am.

  • What happened to Rahma?

She did not make it.

  • Now you are the only female marathoner in Eritrea after Nebiat Habtemariam. Is it tough?

Yes it is. But I am thrilled for my profession. I love it and I don’t intend to stop. I am now getting ready for Fenkil’s time trial for full marathon and participate in international races early this year. My current time is 2:31; it is the score I set in Japan. Now I am working hard to hit 2:30. That is my dream.

  • Is there anything you want to say at the end?

Athletics is hard. But I have made it so far thanks to the effort of my family, fellow athletes and my coach, Fish. So I want to thank them all. I hope I will win over the pain in my leg caused by tendon problems and hit my dream time. Moreover, I want to seize this opportunity to promise my fans and people that will do my best to meet your expectations. Thank you all so very much for your love and support.

  • Kokob, it has been an honor meeting you. I hope that in the future we’ll be able to know you better and follow more stories. Best of luck with everything, and I’d like to assure you that everyone at Eritrea Profile is proud of you. We’re huge fans!


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