When we walk into Impala Grounds, we find Camilla Lydia suited up, with a whistle in her mouth and a multifunctional stopwatch hanging on her neck.
She paces the length of the 33-metre-long pool, monitoring 16-year-old Iman Zacharia’s swimming deftness.
“Deep water start, flip turn, tumble turn, Dolphin kick, burst,” Camilla screams, eyes glued to the stopwatch as the teenager takes another deep.
For the next eight minutes, Lydia keeps reciting these terminologies as Iman takes another deep and another as we watch.
This is what Camilla, a dental administrator who moonlights as “Kenya’s first and currently the only Level 2 female triathlon coach,” has been doing in the past five years.
Triathlon is an athletic contest with three different events: swimming, cycling, and long-distance running.
She has been working with young female athletes to hone their skills. The goal is simple: give these women a firm footing to launch their careers and achieve their potential.
It's her way of extending a lifting hand after stuttering in hers because she got to it very late.
“Before I got into coaching, I was a competing athlete but didn’t get far because I got into sports in my 30s, and so by the time I was getting into international competition stage, I couldn’t keep up,” she says.
Unlike elite athletes in her age bracket, Camilla couldn’t compete against them because of insufficient experience.
“So I opted to do the age group competition, which is not for the elites, and while at it, I took up coaching to groom female athletes because I struggled to find a coach when I started,” the 42-year-old offers.
As an age group athlete, she took up the duathlon (consisting of running and cycling), a category she calls her forte.
“I do the standard duathlon discipline, which is 10 kilometres run, 40 kilometres bike ride, and five kilometres run. I did this from 2016 to 2018 and landed my first international competition age group category in Denmark,” she says.
In 2019, she was named captain of the team representing Kenya in the Duathlon World Champions in Spain.
“I was in charge of both the duathlon and triathlete teams, and that’s how I also developed an interest in mentoring girls. At the time, most of them shied away from these disciplines because of the perception that they are challenging, demanding, and expensive.”
Worth every shilling
Camilla admits that participating in the events is not cheap, but it’s worth every shilling. For instance, she points out that a good road bike costs an average of Sh30,000 and a racing bike about Sh200,000.
“A good pair of shoes will also leave a dent in your pocket, and again, if you are a triathlete, you will have to sign up for a swimming session. But hey, the memories are priceless,” she says.
When Camilla was offered the opportunity to become a triathlon coach, her first instinct was to reject the offer.
“In 2019, having captained both the duathlon and triathlon teams, I got an email from the Kenya Triathlon Federation informing me that I had been selected to do the world triathlon coaching, which was sponsored by Korea Federation,” she recalls.
When the email hit her inbox, she was already deep into a duathlon competition and had just turned 35.
“I wasn’t sure about the opportunity. Also, I didn’t know how to swim. But weighing my options, I knew I wasn’t going to compete forever, and having struggled to find a female coach because there was none, I snapped the chance,” she says.
She camped in Korea for the next six months; swimming lessons were her nightmare.
What it takes
“To be able to do triathlon coaching, you must know how to swim. When I got the email, I told the Federation I couldn’t take the offer because I couldn’t swim. They insisted. It took me three months to learn how to swim. Those were the most dreadful and hardest times of my life. Right now, I go toe-to-toe with dolphins,” she vaunts with loud laughter.”
Ideally, any fitness or athletic coach is judged by his or her physical appearance. Camilla admits that she does not cut the image of a fitness coach.
“I am aware of that. Many people have judged me based on that. Some have even questioned how I attained my coaching badges, but this is my body type; I have always been like this. I am very fit. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to compete in a few competitions, let alone pass my coaching exams. Do you know what I like to call myself? thick-fit,” she says with a smile.
She is no longer bothered by the critics. She says the duathlon and triathlon federations’ confidence in her is all the boost she needs.
“Most athletes also believe in my ability. Currently, I handle 11 athletes aged between 11 and 21,” she points out.
All her athletes compete professionally in self-sponsored events or for the country. Camilla says at the moment, she only attends to professionals.
“I don’t have the time to train someone who is not competing, not when I am handling all these athletes.”
To balance her two jobs, Lydia sacrifices her tea and lunch breaks as a dental administrator to earn a window to coach her clients. Her boss, a former competitive swimmer, has been supportive, too.