Living his cycling dream: Kenneth Karaya
By Naliaka Wafula Imende
Growing up, rising Kenyan cyclist Kenneth Karaya always wanted to ride a bicycle. He and his siblings however didn’t own one, so they would borrow their neighbour’s to teach themselves how to ride. “I learnt how to balance by using a small bike we borrowed from our neighbour”, he recalls.
Today, Kenneth is making a name for himself riding with the Safari Simbaz and after recently winning the 4-day Mt Kenya Epik, a new extreme mountain bike race on the Kenyan circuit, the 21-year-old cyclist has even more motivation to become Kenya’s champion.
“It was good, challenging but we made it,” said Kenneth. He shared his experience during an interview with XOA at the race’s finishing line.
On the first day, Kenneth and his fellow cyclists finished in 1 hours 45 minutes and took an early lead, that they maintained despite punctures. The final stretch, which was 90km, was the toughest. “ We are happy that out hard work has paid off, now we just keep training for the next race,” he told us, as he lifted the winning trophy. He explains that the 10 to 4 races, which took place around Mt Kenya in February, helped prepare them for the Mt Kenya Epik terrain. Having been cycling for 7 years now, Kenneth hopes that the Mt Kenya Epik will continue to grow in popularity and looks forward to taking part next year. “ I started cycling when I was 15 years old”, he said. “ I heard about the Safari Simbaz through friends who were part of it and they introduced me to Kinjah and that’s how I started”.
Recognising Kennth’s talent, legendary Kenyan cyclist David Kinjah, who has also mentored two-time Tour de France champion Chris Froome, took the young cyclist under his wing and is now coaching him full-time. David Kinjah is the founder of the Safari Simbaz Trust, which works to empower children from disadvantaged backgrounds by teaching life skills through cycling, opening up future opportunities in the growing industry. “I have known Kenneth for six years now, he started from zero as young village boy and he was very determined from the start,” he said. The mentor added that he received a lot of positive support from Kenneth’s father, who unlike other parents would allow him to attend training sessions and cycling trips. For Kenneth, who led the Safari Simbaz Under 23 team at the Mount Kenya Epik, cycling has taken him beyond borders and horizons. He has travelled all over Kenya, visited Rwanda and Uganda, something he only dreamt about as a young boy who growing in Muguga, Kiambu County.
His first ever race was the DHL sponsored Safari Simbaz Ngong race and his first ever win happened when he was 16. “The first race I won was a road race in Muranga, it was a charity race for children’s home and I won Sh3000 (30 USD). It felt good, I have always wanted to be a good cyclist,” he told us. A second born in a family of four, Kenneth’s family was initially sceptical about his cycling; his parents were especially concerned about the dangers associated with cycling. Like most Kenyan parents they viewed cycling as more of a past time than a serious vocation. “When I started, they didn’t like it, they felt it was dangerous especially when I crashed and had to be taken to hospital but since then cycling has been good and I can now pay some bills,” said Kenneth, who has invested the money he makes from cycling into a boda-boda (motorbike) taxi business. Apart from just improving his cycling skills, he believes cycling has made him a better person.
“Cycling has taught me personal discipline, how to talk and associate with different people, perseverance, hard work through coming to races, fixing your bike and fighting to win, it teaches you to be a good person” he told us. Kenneth has big plans for the future and as the saying goes “ the sky is the limit” “I would like to be the Kenyan cycling champion, to help other small boys learn how to cycle and teach them the skills I have learnt. I hope to become a professional cyclist in a few years to come”. His mentor David Kinjah believes that the young talent still has many more races to win before he goes international and remains optimistic about his future: “Kenneth is positively engaged, if he keeps training hard and winning races, you never know what tomorrow will bring.”