Babu Mollel still unleashing his magic at 90
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JORAM Mollel (90) shows his Exemplary Runner Shield as he poses for a photo with family members, Zacharia John and his wife at Ngulelo suburb in Arusha. (Photo by Abdallah Msuya)

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FINISHING a marathon race takes special grit and will power, but it is quite an extraordinary feat for the 90-years old grandfather, Joram Mollel.

Mollel, hailing from Kijenge Juu in Arusha, will go down history as the country’s oldest long-distance runner to complete a 21km run at the Kilimanjaro Marathon.

At every Kilimanjaro Marathon edition talks among participants and spectators have been predominantly about this amazing runner, Mollel.

On Sunday, he reached a decade since he made his first appearance ten years ago. His feat and ever-presence has been spectacular.

Loud cheers and chants greeted Mollel as he steadily raced towards the finish line to reach yet another milestone. Babu Mollel as he is fondly known completed the 21km run in 4 hours.

Tenth of enthralled spectators fought for a space to have a close glimpse of Mollel. He was feted by the media for this amazing feat. Fans followed him all the way to a pavilion looking for selfies.

Mollel’s perseverance has left many people wondering, how can someone of his age complete a half marathon run? The spotlight shone on Mollel ostensibly a decade ago when he featured for the first time in the prestigious Kilimanjaro Marathon at the age of 80.

He has featured in all ten editions since then, with his ever-presence earning him a widespread attention across the athletics fraternity. He is now the centre of attraction at Kilimanjaro Marathon.

“He looks healthy and active; that’s very inspiring to young generation, how he manages to do it at his age is quite amazing,” remarked, Peter Killya, one of the participants of the 21km race.

This year, the main sponsors of 21km half marathon race, tigo, decided to produce a special documentary on Mollel and awarded him an ‘exemplary runner’ gong in honour of his ten years participation at Kilimanjaro Marathon.

It is around 12:00 on Monday, a day after the 15th edition of Kilimanjaro Marathon. Mollel, donning a long-sleeved shirt, a pair of woolen trousers and training shoes, emerges from one of the six-rooms of a premise built adjacent to a main house.

He wears a broad smile as a welcome gesture to his visitor, who is standing in front of the main house in this beautiful compound belonging to his late sister. The visitor takes photos of this aged marathoner, as the grandpa walks towards the main house.

“Should I stand still or keep walking?” he throws a question as the smile on his face grows into a shy laughter. “You’re welcome, let’s get inside,” he says, welcoming this visitor into the sitting room. It is a decent room fitted with modern sofas.

The compound or ‘boma’ as locally known is located on a hill around 200meters from Ngulelo suburb. He moved here a few years ago from Kijenge Juu so that he can stay with his elder sister’s children following the death of their mother. Previously, he lived in a single, rented room at Kijenge.

“After our mother passed away, I decided that I should go and find him. I needed him to come and stay with us here,” says Zakaria John Mollel, 43, his sister’s eldest son. “We like the old man. He’s humble and a really lovely man,” Zakaria says, adding; “But he’s very busy… he rarely spends his time at home.”

“I never thought I would reunite with these guys. God is great, we’re back together again and I’m feeling very happy to have them around,” responds the old Mollel, gracefully moving his head up and down. He immediately recalls the previous weekend events.

“I never thought I would make it on Sunday because I slipped and fell in the bathroom on the eve of the race and twisted my leg. “But I woke up in the morning and found the pains had disappeared…. I got prepared and we went to the stadium.

It was never easy but I’m grateful to God I completed the race,” says Mollel. What is the secret of his running prowess and his longevity? Mollel says there is no secret formula: “My diet is simple… I eat very same foods that others eat.

But I train a lot. I want to keep fit and stay healthy.” As he recalls his athletics career, Mollel looks old enough to remember each and everything but he says he took up serious running when he was 45. “I was inspired into longdistance running after undergoing mgambo militia training,” he says.

“I have participated in various marathons in Karatu and Babati districts for many years.” He is member of a group of Arusha-based runners who train under the supervision of Jim Elsworth, a retired mechanical Engineer from UK, living in Arusha, assisted by two other white men.

“They guide us in everything regarding to athletics, they supervise our training programme and arrange everything for us. They also provide us with lunch on a daily basis,” he says. He says they meet up every Friday evening to plan their training programme for the following week, including choosing the training route that fits to their demand.

Babu says he runs about 10 to 15km everyday and that has helped him stay fit and kept him healthy throughout. “While I was at Kijenge, I would wake up every morning and ran from Mnara wa Saa area to Kisongo Airport for three hours. Now I run from Philips and Ngaramtoni (about 30km), it takes me four hours because it’s a bit far.”

  • Early Life

Mollel says he was born 90 years ago to Ugandan father, who used to work as a tour guide and hunter. His mother was from the Arusha (Waarusha) tribe. “I was not interested in studies so I dropped out at standard two,” says Mollel who, received mgambo militia trainings.

He has worked as security guard all his life. Even now at 90, he works as a security guard at Themi Living Garden, a women-lead community centre and part of a project implemented by Italian NGO, Oikos East Africa, under SiCeppi. “I work as guard-man at Silvia’s garden two-days a week, on the Saturdays and Sundays, eight days in a month.” He receives 90,000/- a month for this job.

One sad story about Mollel is that he has neither been married nor blessed with children of his own. “Marriage and children are the blessings from God.

I did not receive these blessings but I must thank God for whatever in my life. I have these children around me, they’re like my own children,” he says pointing to Zakaria. Interestingly, though, Babu Mollel has a girlfriend, Eva, a mother of two, to whom he is fondly attached.

“Although we’re not living together, she’s my great companion, and is taking good care of me.” If the grandfather is still able, his goal is to race again in next year’s edition when he’s 91, and extend his record as the country’s oldest marathoner.

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