The Making of the Okal Brothers

the making of the okal brothers

I grew up looking up to Kipchoge Keino and wanting to meet him. Every time I have thought about interviewing a veteran athlete, Kipchoge Keino’s name features prominently. Little did I know that the process of meeting Keino would start from interviewing his grandsons about triathlons.

triathlon is a multi-stage sport that involves swimming, cycling and running in immediate succession. The sport has “transitions” where triathletes change into different gear for the swim, cycle, and run segments of the competition. The transition area is also used to store performance apparel, bicycles and other accessories needed for the race.

While the distances vary according to suit different competitions, triathlon requires a high level of mental and physical endurance.  As a result, preparing for a triathlon focuses on consistent training in each of the three disciplines as well as strength conditioning.

The sport is gaining interest from Kenyans from all walks of life. My interest in the sport was ignited after I watched Alistair Brownlee and Jonathan Brownlee, the Brownlee Brothers during the 2016 Rio Olympics. Since then, I have taken part in two duathlons – run, bike, run – as I continue working on my swimming. During both times, my will has been tested to the fullest.

You can read the full story here.

The Kericho Triathlon Series is an annual event that is organized by Team Tri Fit. The series is aimed at the following: –

  • nurturing of triathlon in Kenya
  • raising funds for the purchase and upkeep of gym and rehabilitation facilities at the National Spinal Injury Hospital
  • using sports as an evangelism tool

Personally, I use the event to fundraise for Lifesong Kenya and sharing my salvation and walk in Christ. This involves dismounting from my bike or slowing down to encourage a struggling competitor.

The making of the Okal Brothers

the making of the okal brothers
Joseph Okal representing Team Kenya during a recent event in Uganda

I remember the first time I saw the Okal brothers during the 2016 Kericho Triathlon Series. They were the youngest participants and were not concerned about who was going to win their category. The other thing I noticed was the huge support they receive from their parents – Jelagat Olympia and Jacob Okal.

I recently paid them a visit at their home in Kisumu and had a brief chat with them. Here is what Jesse (17), Joseph (15) and Joshua (13) had to say about salvation, winning souls for Christ through sports and growing up.

Me: How have your parents supported you?

Jesse: Our parents sacrifice a lot of their finances, time and personal comforts to ensure we succeed. Their commitment to Christ and love for each other has enabled us to have confidence in ourselves. It has also taught us to trust and have unwavering faith in God.

Joseph: Mom takes days off from her work so she can drive and be with us during competitions and events. Because one of them has to remain back home, dad doesn’t come to every race. However, his leadership and encouragement throughout, is very crucial.

Joshua: He prays for us before we leave, and continues to do so, over the phone, until we come back home. He also calls to check on mom and ask how we are. When we come back, he welcomes us with blessings, joy and hugs. It doesn’t matter whether we have lost or won, his reception is usually the same.

Jesse: There are many young people out there who desire to get into sports but can’t, due to lack of support. Sometimes, you may have everything you need to succeed in whatever you want. However, having unwavering support from parents is an added blessing and advantage.

Total trust and complete dependence on God

the making of the okal brothers
Joshua Okal pushes his bike on a muddy section during the Kericho Triathlon Series 2017

Joshua: Our parents have engrained in us having total trust and dependence on God and the Holy Spirit. In fact, we always pray before every competition. If you happen to be by the poolside, you will hear me scream out the Name of Jesus as I dive into the pool.

Joseph: I had trusted God to qualify for the East Africa competition. Just before the event, during the trials, one of the guys from Mombasa taunted me, saying I wasn’t going to beat him. During the last lap, he just stopped; I passed him and took second position.

Jesse: The guy simply stopped, after he had been leading during the other laps. Up to now, we don’t know what happened. The intimidation didn’t start before the event. It is something that kept on building and got worse, with each passing minute. They kept on taunting us by saying we were not going to win and qualify for the East Africa competition.

Joseph: Later on, after I had defeated him, he came and shook my hands, saying I am a good swimmer. I silently thanked God for enabling me to do well and wished him success in the rest of the events. Personally, I knew it was God Who had turned everything around for me to emerge second.

Jesse: When we joined and started training at Braeburn, we discovered we needed kickboards and other swimming equipment. Our parents didn’t have the money to buy them. But we trusted and had faith in God. God enabled us to become better swimmers even without the necessary equipment.

Joshua: Triathlon is a sport that requires quality equipment and accessories. You need to have lots of money to get the best. God keeps providing enough money for equipment and signing up for events and competitions.

Using sports as an evangelism tool

the making of the okal brothers
Triathlon is a growing sport that is attracting interest from Kenyans

Joseph: Doing a triathlon requires a lot of wisdom. It calls for knowing you are not competing against other people. You therefore have to run your own race while at the same time, improving on your previous race. Last year, the three of us did everything and finished together. During this year’s event, Jesse was in a different category and I ended up not waiting for Joshua.

Joshua: This year’s (Kericho Triathlon Series) event was the most difficult. Since it had rained heavily the previous night, I thought they would shorten the laps. I thought they would tell me I had finished at the end of the second lap. However, they didn’t. I kept praying and asking God for strength to finish.

Me: Is there a time when your trust in God has carried you through a particular race?

Joshua: (smiling) I ended up coming in fourth after I spent the last lap of the bike course helping a friend who was competing for the first time. I would drop my bike, take his and remove mud from it. This happened several times. I also encouraged him a lot, telling him to not give up.

Me: Well, I’m told your friend finished third while you finished fourth…

Joshua: It hurt, I won’t lie about that. Even though he is my friend, I still wanted to finish ahead of him. Having taken part in the previous event, I had more experience and knew I was going to emerge in the Top 3. In the end, I decided it wasn’t about me winning and emerging on top. I chose to help my friend. Yet, seeing him get a position, which I would have gotten had I not stopped to help him, hurt me.

Jesse: We have never discussed that issue. But, I am sure it must have impacted on his friendship with Joshua. I am also sure that if Joshua had preached to him at that time, he would have easily accepted salvation.

The need to start awarding children during events
the making of the okal brothers
Jelagat (front row) and Jacob (back row) watches as their sons gets rewarded

Joseph: After working hard and finishing early, I thought I was going to get a reward. They had lots of awards that were returned after some of the adult competitors got time barred. Also, most of the other children we had introduced the competition to, were attending for the first time. The failure to get rewarded in the junior category disappointed me. I am also sure it disappointed the rest of the young boys who took part.

Mom: I know Mike (Michael Owora Maranga) and the rest of the Team Tri Fit are still growing. In my opinion, rewarding children is an issue that needs to be addressed. For children, it doesn’t have to be actual money. They can be given a shopping voucher. Maybe it is up to us as parents and friends to come up with a reward for children so they don’t feel left out during the awarding ceremony.

Joseph: Getting a reward is a good way of motivating children to keep taking part in the competition. Imagine giving your all only to end up not getting anything! What hurts, the most, is seeing adults getting rewarded while children get nothing.

Mom: Having said that, the team is still growing and there are things that needs polishing. I also think they need a woman in the management team. (Laughing) Women are usually keen on details, you know.

Me: Your names all start with the Letter J. Was it planned?

Mom: We prayed and agreed to give our children names that had similar letters like ours. That is why all of us have a J and Double O. My name is Jelagat Olympia Okal, my husband is Jacob Okal Odero while our sons are Jesse, Joseph and Joshua Okal. Of course, their middle names start with an O.

Preparing for an event
The making of the Okal Brothers
Jesse Okal getting ready to receive a band at the end of a bike lap

Jesse: Since we are able to know when the next event is going to happen at the end of a gala, our training usually begins immediately. A typical training session begins with us waking up at before 5 am, taking tea and leaving for training.

Joshua: Mom drops us at the swimming pool where we train for an hour or two. This is followed by a short prayer after which we come back to prepare for school. After school we are always worn out and have to take a short nap in the evening.

Jesse: My training was a bit different when I stayed with Mike just before the Kericho Triathlon. Staying with him enabled me to learn more about Team Tri Fit and sports evangelism. It also enabled me to become a better athlete. Time is very crucial with Mike. You are late by a single minute; he tells you to go back home. (Laughing) I got late three times and almost came back to Kisumu! I also got to help in preparing meals and grew spiritually too.

Joseph: Apart from swimming, we ride our bikes and run. Since the three of us are very good swimmers and runners, we are working on our cycling. This will help us to become better and stronger in triathlon.

Me: What’s next?

Jesse: I am planning to enter the World Junior Under-18 Triathlon which will happen in Algeria next year. My brothers and I are also looking into taking triathlon as a business opportunity. There is a growing interest in triathlons and there are people who need quality bikes, swim wear and running gear. Kisumu Town has everything that is attractive for triathlon. We are therefore planning to take full advantage of this by marketing triathlon in this part of the world.

Additional information about Team Tri Fit

Team Tri Fit is Kenya’s most dynamic endurance sporting group that brings together amateur and professional athletes of all ages who have a desire to compete and nurture the sport of triathlon. The Team is a not-for-profit and volunteer driven group that derives its name from the sport and its demand for physical and mental fitness. Based in Nairobi, Team Tri Fit uses different initiatives that include swimming, cycling and running training clinics, competitions and sports based community outreach projects to grow triathlon sport in Kenya. 

You can reach the Team Tri Fit through their Facebook page here or call +254 722 637155.

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