Benson Gicharu, a boxer and police officer, has twice represented the country in the Olympics games. Born and brought up in Mukuru kwa Njenga informal settlements, Gicharu has literally fought his way up. The boxer-cum-police officer narrated his grass to grace story to HENRY KAHARA.
ew Kenyans can pick out Benson Gicharu in the streets despite the fact that he represents the country in boxing both locally and internationally. His list of accomplishments includes competing for the country in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.
Gicharu’s dalliance with boxing started as a defense mechanism against big boys who harassed him, taking advantage of his small stature. Not one to take a blow lying down, he would hit back at his bullies.
It seems that what he lacked in stature was adequately compensated for in his fist as his bullies would reel back in pain and thus leave him alone. For Gicharu, this was a revelation of sorts and he started toying with the idea of becoming a boxer.
“I was always a target of bullying by the big boys in the slums. I knew I would suffer if I didn’t defend myself and scrawny as I appeared, I could throw a really hard punch. This turned out to be a hobby when I realised how hard my fist could hit,” he explains, tongue-in-cheek.
Convinced that he had what it took to be a boxer, Gicharu joined an amateur boxing training school in Mukuru kwa Njenga so as to hone his skills.
“I graduated from using my fists as a defense mechanism to using it in the sport of boxing as a hobby. Since the training school was in my neighbourhood I started attending training sessions, which were offered free of charge. I thus popped in whenever I had time on my hands,” he says, adding that the training was sponsored by a non-governmental organisation in a bid to keep the youth busy so as to prevent them from engaging in crime.
“Young people living in slums are exposed to numerous social ills such as drug abuse, alcoholism, prostitution and early marriage among others. To keep them safe from such traps, non-governmental organisations usually come up with ways to keep them occupied,” he adds.
Gicharu reveals that he had started abusing drugs by the time he was joining the training school but boxing saved him from them. “Drugs and sports don’t mix: you have to choose one. I chose boxing,” he says.
Gicharu took to boxing the way a fish takes to water. Boxing was simply in his genes. The training school offered him the perfect opportunity to sharpen his skills and it wasn’t long before he started participating in amateur boxing matches. He won his first boxing trophy at the age of 13. From then on, he was unstoppable.
“I ran away from home a week before the match. My love for the game always put my mum and I at loggerheads. It was the incessant quarrelling with my mum that made me ran away from home. But after winning the game I dropped the trophy home and returned to my hideout. I wanted her to see that I could excel in boxing and her support meant everything to me. My mum later reached out to me through my friends,” he recalls.
Challenges while growing up…
Boxing proved to be therapeutic for young Gicharu as it made him forget, even if momentarily, the troubles at home. His father died while he was young leaving him and his two siblings under the care of their mum.
Due to the challenges they faced as a family, Gicharu had to look for odd jobs to help his mother make ends meet.
“Young and with no stable job, mum needed financial help and I would go for casual jobs during my free time to top assist her,” says Gicharu.
His mother’s income couldn’t match the rising cost of living. School fees became a tall order for the single mother and Gicharu spent many days out of school for lack of fees. He trudged on nevertheless.
However, he dropped out of school in form three and relocated to Qatar through an agent who had secured employment for him in the Arab country.
“I stayed in Qatar for only one year and came back home. I didn’t renew my contract as I found life in the Arab country not so rosy. Foreigners went through a lot of mistreatment and that was not the life I wanted for myself,” he sums up his short stay in the Arab nation.
With the little he had saved, he went back to school to complete his secondary education. In 2006, a year after finishing high school, he was recruited in the Kenya Police Service. He is currently working in the General Service Unit.
Career as a boxer…
His enrollment into the police service did not interfere with his boxing and so he juggled the two. He became a regular in local boxing matches where he cemented his place with every punch he threw.
His boxing career peaked during the 2010 Commonwealth Games when he won the silver medal in the flyweight division. This success enabled him to represent Kenya in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.
Physically well-conditioned and a crisp and aggressive puncher, Gicharu can count excellent coordination as one of his best attributes together with lightning reactions and blurring hand speed. In addition, he is capable of putting together flowing punch combinations, boxing either at close quarters on the inside or at long range from the outside.
He also has a tight defense that incorporates unorthodox blocks and movements of the body to avoid being hurt in the ring.
Without doubt, the thirty-five-year-old has made a name for himself in the continent’s boxing arena. He reveals he has a few more punches to throw before hanging up his gloves. He draws inspiration from the late Muhammad Ali.
The state of boxing in Kenya…
Having benefitted immensely from the sport, he encourages young people interested in boxing to venture into it. On the same breath, he does not want to paint a glossy picture of the game as it comes at a price.
“Boxing is a tough sport and for you to excel in it, you must put in a lot of practice time. Secondly, boxing hurts so you have to be fearless,” explains the father of one.
He observes that boxing is not given the attention it deserves in the country hence making talented people shy away from it. Gicharu points out that there are no good boxing training facilities in Kenya and urges the government to invest in facilities and trainers in order for the game to thrive.
“The facilities we use for training here are way below the required standards. We have a long way to go but for now we make do with whatever is at our disposal,” he adds.
Gicharu is open to mentoring young people, as he believes that great people make time to help others even if they are struggling with their own personal problems.
“I would like to see more people embrace boxing and even achieve more than I have achieved,” he says, adding that despite where he is right now, he is still chasing his dreams.
His parting shot is a word of encouragement to young people. “Do not shy away from following your dream even when it appears elusive. Just think of the risks you would have taken if you were born blind and were told you could get your eyesight through hard work. Wouldn’t you have given it your all to gain sight? That’s what is needed to be the best you can be,” he concludes