* Kenyan bodybuilding and fitness star Christopher Oketch shares his journey of becoming a six-time Qatar Strongest Man titlist
While the Covid-19 pandemic posed a huge challenge for bodybuilders and fitness athletes, six-time Qatar Strongest Man winner Christopher Oketch took it as a break to train harder and win the latest edition of the competition.
Oketch, also a two-time titlist of Kenya’s Strongest Man, bested compatriot Joseph Iroo Ekadeli (second) and Egyptian expatriate Mohamed Dweidar (third) at the prestigious event last month at Aspire Park.
“The global health crisis was a shock to everyone, our life sort of like changed, but during this time, bearing in mind that 'you are training for QSM’ even when a lot of places got shutdown here, gave me an opportunity to even train harder but in limited capacity,” he told Gulf Times.
“Since the gyms were closed for like three months, so I said okay we have to think outside the box,” said Oketch, who was prompted to stay and do his workouts at home.
To become a champion, he stressed that one has to train as a champion – safe and smart training, having adequate recovery and at least seven-hour sleep, eating a balanced diet (less processed food), and a healthy lifestyle.
“I wouldn’t be eating like a normal person who can just eat breakfast, lunch, and supper, so for me I try to at least eat a minimum of five times and these are portion-controlled, a very balanced and high-protein diet,” he said.
Oketch underlined the importance of discipline, which means forcing oneself and doing things “even if you don’t feel like you want to do it, because it is your chosen career like an athlete.”
While fitness training, weightlifting, and other gym workouts have become an inherent part of his daily routine, he said his philosophy has always been to maintain and break the records in order to win.
“I was able to do that a couple of times so I train to break my records like depending upon how I performed. The next time I will outperform my last performance so that’s been the way I do my training and my way to approach competitions,” Oketch said.
“From the first time or even many times I got to compete, the hardest part for me is to retain the title because everyone is gunning for you, everyone is coming to get you, and everyone is coming to get hold of the championship,” he added.
Oketch has always been an active and athletic person since a little boy in Kenya, playing football and other sports. It was during his primary years when his older brother, William Odhiambo, who was crowned Mr Kenya Heavyweight 2003, inspired him to pursue a similar path.
“I want to emulate him I want to become a champion as well. I trained with him and with his proper guidance I started making gains in terms of strength and body composition,” he said. “When I finished high school and in college I was very active in the gym and I was among the top strongest in our gym.”
Before he came to Doha in 2013, he participated in a number of body-building events in Kenya but did not make a mark. Only until he placed third in another body-building contest back home and a top prize at a show in Doha when he decided to give it a try at QSM.
“That sort of inspired me and I said okay if I can become number three, then I can be a person who can win competitions. I did one show (in Doha) which was in a gym and I won, I won a lifetime membership in that gym, then this win motivated me to play more and that is when I said I want to give it a try in the QSM, organised by Aspire Zone Foundation,” Oketch said.
“Before that we had one Kenyan guy who won it (Ekadeli), this was a sort of reassurance that we can win competitions, so I won QSM in 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2021, so six times I’ve been number one in this event,” he noted.
Oketch also took part and won two out of three competitions in his home country – dubbed as Kenya’s Strongest Man. He is preparing to defend the title this year.
He also lauded and thanked Aspire and its management for organising QSM 2021 despite the current situation.
“For us we are very grateful to the Aspire management in that they were able to host it in a very difficult period. We didn’t even know we could be competing in the sport that we love (despite the pandemic) and we look forward to participating every year,” Oketch said.
About teamwork and camaraderie, he noted that Kenyans train and compete as one people, aiming to sweep the top positions in an event. “That’s been our aim but this time we took two positions, one and two, and number three went to Egypt so this again gives us a chance to go to the drawing board and try to improve more.”
About tips for aspiring fitness athletes, he reiterated doing safe and smart training: “It means if you’ve never been to a gym, you first need to get and trained by someone who at least has an experience or is qualified to show you how to move, how to perform the workout.”
He also suggested doing weight training for 40s and above, since it has been scientifically proven to have health benefits.
“As a champion, we need to teach people the importance of fitness and health in society and this is our aim everywhere we go,” Oketch said. “You’re not a real champion if you cannot inspire people to live a healthy lifestyle and to be stronger by taking care of themselves.”