SarahEtonge, born in 1967 to a family of seven and they lived with their mother. As a child, their father farmed on the mountain andher family had to relate with it, as the mountain was where they got their food.
They lived in Mokundavillagefrom where they wouldaccompanytheir father up the mountain on Saturdays to assist him in farming. Sarah did not go beyond the fifth-grade because she started bearing children at the tender age of 13.
Sarah was still very young at the time the mountain race began. She would come out to see people run then. Economic hardship lured Sarah into the race at 27 to cater for her children, after she lost her father.
She was then referred to as “Mami Kanda” because she sold hide sauce (kanda) for a living and continued working on her father’s farmlands. It was too stressful for her, and the proceeds could not meet up with her family’s needs.
Sarah had been a sprinter since elementary school. “I began athletics in primary school. I was even a very good footballer. I was also good at high jump. My father told me how he used to run. I see it like a gene in our family, my children too are competing. They love running, even right to my grandchildren, have inherited it. If it were not a gene my children wouldn’t have picked it up.” Sarah says with a grin.
She first ran the mountain race in 1992 and was fourth. She received CFA10.000 and was very happy about her prize. Back then, it was a huge sum for Sarah. During her second participation in the race 1996, she finished first place and was given CFA500.000.
She kept on working hard to support her family and to pay her children’s tuition in primary school and secondary school that they were then. “I didn’t know what else to do then. I did not finish school and I would not get involved in dubious activities to sustain my children. So this was my way of working hard to make money to cater for my children.”Sarah says confidently.
Knowing that the Mountain race came only once a year, once she received the money, she would pay her children’s fee for the year and would use the remainder to purchase their school uniform and a few books and then she would return to her farms for food.
In most cases, the money got finished and she wouldn’t geteven clothes for herself.But she would still be quite satisfied knowing that she had taken care of her children’s school needs. Sarah wouldpray to God that none of my children falls sick that year.
Sarah had to intensify her training efforts and still work extremely hard on her farms to sell cocoyamfor extra income.“I believe that it was God who directed me to go this way, to be able to sustain myself and my children.I followed that path, worked very hard and I succeeded.”
Apart from running the Mountain race,Sarah participated in several International competitions. She joined the F.A.P team and participated in these competitions. She travelled to many countries like Gabon, Switzerland and France.
She participated in many competitions in Paris, Senegaland Conakry. She emerged second place in Senegal and Conakry, beaten by a Gabonese.When she returned to Cameroon, Sarah was told that she would represent the country in Libreville.
For fear of succumbing to defeat from the Gabonese lady once again, Sarah worked incessantlyfor this and finally emerged first, flying the Cameroonian flag in great heights.
Even before Sarah joined the Mt. Cameroon race, she had enjoyed the ambience that came with it each year. It was more than just a race. Much publicity on the event will be done a week to the race and one could see the changes everywhere.
Many cars drove in, the place was animated and people had free drinks. Businesses sprung and one could tell two to three weeks to the race that something big was coming to Buea. The mountain race was a“second Christmas” for the people of Buea. That died slowly, when Guinness Cameroon handed down sponsorship of the race to FECATHLETISME.
Male athletes who came first were paid CFA350.000 and CFA250.000 for the ladies. The amount was smaller than what is given today, but the ambience was higher. The last person used to get CFA10.000 as is still the case today.
As time went on, the federation changed certain aspects about the race and today, the athlete in first place can earn up to CFA3 million in the male and female Senior Categories.They equally raised the females’ prize to measure up with the males’, owing that the distance was the same for both.
Sarah says, “Personally, I don’t feel comfortable with the fact that everything concerning the organisation of the race is done in Yaoundé. There is no Mountain in Yaounde so I don’t know why everything regarding the organisation of the race should be done in Yaoundé. The arrangements ought to be done in Buea where the mountain race is taking place.”
Prior to this year’s race, people kept on asking me: “Sarah, are you sure there will be a race this year?” when she sought to know why they asked, they said it was because there was no sign of an event of that magnitude, like it was in the days of Guinness.
At her age, Sarah does not feel challenged by the other females in her categories. “My own competition is out of my country, where I have made a name for myself. When running with other Cameroonian women, I instead encourage them, because they are my sisters.
My problem is that I don’t want a woman to come from another country like Rwanda and win the Mountain race. In the course of running, if my Cameroonian sisters can overtake me I have no problem. For those who are giving up, I hold their hands and tell them “courage”, “continue”. I can never encourage a foreigner, I just look for a way to defeat and put them below me.” Sarah says with a broad smile.
Sarah says she believes in God Almighty and that as far as “Epasamoto”- god of the mountain is concerned,she cannot say anything because she has never seen it. Sarah has climbed the mountain severally not only as an athlete, but with tourists and friends whowish to go up the mountain.
Sarah says she knows the mountain so well that she can spend five days there. The only thing she finds on the Mountain is elephants. “I’ve never seen Epasa Moto, much less, believing in it.” She had only heard while growing, as her father and others spoke about it.
For her, excellence in athletics and her prowess conquering the “Mongo-mo-Ndemi,” or Mountain of Thunder.Sarah was named “Queen of the Mountain” and a statue was erected in her honour in front of the Buea Central Police (Buea town).
The government also laid a foundation for her and promised to build a house for her. Sarah has continued to run every year, with the hope that the government will eventually fulfil their promise.
In this year’s race, Sarah came third and was given the sum ofCFA 3 Million and a round ticket to Paris. The minister equally promised to facilitate the building of her house as promised some years back.
Sarah has gained recognition I from the Cameroonian government as well as the public, which looks at Sarah in great admiration. The Cameroonian people are very pleased by her efforts towards sporting excellence. It is not easy for a woman like Sarah, in her late 40s and with seven children and grand children.
Due to her good sporting image, Sarah has secured a job as a commercial agent with Samaritan Insurance. She goes into the field to convince the public to take insurance with the company.People who know Sarah would come and insure their cars with Samaritan Insurance.
Sarah is not retiring from the race anytime soon, as she tells bond magazine that she would run for as long as her health can permit her, first for the love of it and then to keep fit. “I like my body size the way it is, and I hardly fall ill.” Sarah tells us.
Sarah’s dream is to start a sports academy (club), where she can conveniently train young Cameroonians with an interest in sport (sprinting). Sarah expresses gratitude to AngeSama, under whose rule as president of the athletics federation was promised a house to serve as her retirement home.
He also was the person who raised the money for female and equally brought in veteran and the junior categories. He was the one who asked and saw into it that a monument be erected in her honour, which was done though it was later demolished by her fans, who said the monument was too ugly to be representative of a “Queen of the Mountain.” And also, he secured her the job with Samaritan insurance which is providing her with some extra income.