27-01-2021 by Freddie del Curatolo
"For someone who had never been to a country like Kenya, and who has been living in Denmark for six years, being thrown into a remote village at 3,000 metres above sea level in the middle of the beautiful nothingness of the African Rift Valley could have been a shock. But instead...'.
Instead, the 'work trip' of Sebastiano Erbi, a 40-year-old professional in modern sports therapy to treat the muscle aches and pains of the women's marathon world record holder Brigid Kosgei, turned out to be a human and moving life experience that left its mark on his heart.
Sebastiano, a native of Reggio Calabria, uses one of the most sought-after therapies in the world of athletics, called Tecar, and is the specialist of the Swiss company Wintecare, which is used by the 'Rosa Associati' management founded by Italian coach Gabriele Rosa, which protects the rights of many Kenyan cross-country skiers together with the multinational Nike.
It was Wintecare who suggested me to Rosa and Nike to follow Brigid Kosgei on her way to the Tokyo Olympics," the physiotherapist, who has a degree in Motor Sciences, tells Malindikenya.net. "Tecar therapy consists of a transfer of energy in capacitive and resistive mode. The innovative machine does not create heat, but activates processes that can improve performance endurance.
So Sebastiano lands in Nairobi at the beginning of the year and after a few hours arrives in the heart of the world, just above the equator among forests, mountains, sudden plains and dizzying ups and downs. In the magic of the Kalenjin land of Elgeyo-Marakwet County.
As soon as I arrived in the village of Kapsait, I realised that it was not a place like any other," Erbi explains. Many of them, especially the children, had never seen a white man before. They looked at me as if I had come down from heaven, as if I were an angel. I was also deeply touched by their misery and the dignity with which they live with it. As the days went by, we got to know each other and I discovered simple people with a great propensity for sacrifice and hard work. It is inevitable that all young people dream of becoming great marathon runners. Here you have to walk kilometres to get from one village to another. To get to the training camp set up by Nike, there is a 3-kilometre road with a difference in altitude of 150 metres. You have to walk there and back, in addition to your daily training, of course.
Yes, because Sebastiano follows the world record woman in the marathon, but he is also in the world's number one champion's hothouse, where Nike has financed a secondary school for sports and the Italian sports doctor and coach Gabriele Rosa in the 1990s sensed the potential of the heirs of the first Olympic gold medallist Moses Tanui and contributed to the winning of 20 gold medals at the World Championships, 19 Olympic medals, 8 world records and an indefinite number of triumphs in marathons and international races.
Kapsait, of all the training venues, is the most extreme.
Training at these heights is one of the secrets of the Kenyans' performance," admits the Italian therapist, "but what lies behind it can only be discovered by living with them. Waking up at 4.30 in the morning with very cold temperatures, leaving in 20 people in a pick-up truck and driving for four hours on rough roads to find the most suitable training routes. Then coming back, attending school, training again and going home. These boys and girls already run a marathon a day as training. It's normal that they seem to fly in international competitions. Of course, here there is very high competition to be able to aspire to world competitions, just think that in Europe for men a time between 2 hours and 14 and 2 hours and 16 minutes is enough to go to the Olympics, in Kenya you have to stay at least twice a year under 2 hours and 5 minutes! And the girls have the advantage of having 'pacemakers' in them, training together.
Where Sebastiano was even more surprised is in the daily diet.
"For two weeks I too only ate ugali, their maize porridge. At the campus there was a Ugandan cook who tried in every way to vary the side dishes, sautéing vegetables and meat in different ways... but it is certainly not easy for those who are not used to it and especially for us Italians. Athletes, on the other hand, consider ugali to be one of the secrets of their explosiveness, because polenta which is not fully cooked as they cook it expands during digestion and contributes to prolonging the effect of the energy of carbohydrates, while being disposed of adequately'.
In short, in just 15 days, the therapist was already totally immersed in the real Africa dimension.
"Two days before I left, I celebrated my fortieth birthday with an unforgettable party with extraordinary people,' he reveals, 'it reminded me of the authentic, rural dimension of when I was a kid in Calabria. The background certainly played in my favour, but there are many affinities. And I realised that Kenya's Rift Valley is a unique and extraordinary place to which I hope to return soon to visit the seaside resorts and perhaps go on safari. I don't know if it's called 'Africa sickness' but I know that it's the people of Kapsait, the athletes and trainers, who would be the first to want me back among them. Brigid Kosgei will have to continue her training and be in optimal condition for the Tokyo Olympics and I hope to be able to give my contribution to her and to these fantastic boys and girls who are pursuing the dream of a career like hers to get out of poverty and help their families.
In the end the important thing was to raise funds for the fight against polio, a disease that in Italy not even remember but Kenya still reaps victims and damages the lives of so many children in an irreversible manner.
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