Health & Fitness

Meet Kenya's fittest woman

Winne Atieno works out at CrossFit Kwetu Gym in Gigiri, Nairobi. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG
Winne Atieno works out at CrossFit Kwetu Gym in Gigiri, Nairobi. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG 

Winnie Atieno, the fittest woman in Kenya by CrossFit standards, got into exercise to help her wade off depression after a heart break.

The 26-year-old later found comfort in exercising and has pushed her body beyond limits to beat so many competitors in the CrossFit games.

CrossFit is a very high-intensity exercise that involves weight-lifting, gymnastics and body weight workouts.

The workout that involves rounds of squats, pull-ups on overhead gymnastic rings and lifting of weights from hip to shoulder level for about an hour focuses on all the aspects of fitness; muscle and cardiovascular endurance, agility, and speed.

‘‘I got really curious about CrossFit. It is fun because it intimidates men. When they look at you they think you cannot do anything, until they see you and you gain their respect. If a man cannot handle me at the gym, he cannot handle me in life,’’ she says.

Weighing 60 kilogrammes, she is Kenya’s champion having ranked position 147 out of 6,000 competitors globally.

‘‘Last year, I entered the CrossFit Reebok competition for the first time but I came in second. So since last year, I really worked hard day and night just to make sure I just get that title,’’ says the CrossFit Reebok and Olympic weightlifter in the Kenya team.

Being in the fitness industry, she admits, has been a tough journey because her parents did not understand what she was doing.

‘‘I am the first of three children and my mother would worry, asking me not to lift weights, so as to not get injured or worse. My dad wanted a girly girl who works in an office,’’ she says, adding that with time they came to understand that is what she loved.

‘‘Next year, I am aiming to go for the CrossFit Games in the US and for that to happen, I have to be top 10 in Africa,’’ says Ms Atieno who is asked by people if she get into fights.

‘‘I’m really not a violent person, I’d use my skills to run.’’ On diet, she eat everything. For breakfast, she takes three boiled eggs, milk and Weetabix.

‘‘I eat every two hours, six to eight times a day. I’ll snack on fruit, coffee and smoothies, and drink two or more litres of water. I have to make sure I eat the basics so that my body gets what it requires, that is protein, fats, vitamins, carbohydrates and minerals,’’ she says.

She also takes supplements, but only during pre-competitions.

‘‘Like now, I am preparing for the Commonwealth Qualifiers to be held in Australia later this week, so I am using protein supplements by Gorilla Gains, a German-based company, that is also my sponsor,’’ she says.

The protein supplements help in muscle recovery especially when one is training really hard.

Gain confidence

Ms Atieno who hopes to bring the gold medal home one of these fine days, works out for five days a week: three days on, one day off, two days on and one day off.

‘‘This is the best schedule for everyone, however, if you are a beginner, you could work out three to four times a week so your body gets used to the exercises,’’ says Ms Atieno who also coaches a team of 15 to 20.

Her tips to other fitness enthusiasts: ‘‘Give it 100 per cent! Give your work out your best. The rest is a bonus. Your looks are a bonus of how hard you’ve worked in the gym. 80 per cent of working out is mental and the strength comes from inside. Once you believe in yourself, keep training, and be consistent, you’ll see results.’’

Bulk up

She hopes to mentor women into the fitness industry. If you have fears of bulking up, CrossFit is unlikely to do that unless you train and take supplements in a way designed to increase muscle size.

She says for women, working out does not only make them lose weight, but also prepares someone for the world, mentally, physically, psychologically, plus you gain self-confidence.

‘‘I can walk into a mall in my joggers and not be bothered, because of the confidence I’ve gotten from working out. It has raised my self-esteem. I can face anything now. I keep telling myself, if I can squat with 140kgs weights, what can I not do in this world? If you can do that one pull up, what can you not do in this world?’’