There are many industries in which you have to look hard to find a purpose for waking up every day. Not mine! I am lucky to see and live the stories of athletes and how lives have been changed through sport, while also seeing a transformation within myself along the way.
One weekend in early September was particularly special. Not only because it represented the return of competitive racing after months of confinement. Not only because it represented the launch of adizero adios Pro, a revolutionary shoe into which we’d put our hearts and soul into. Nor for the pure aesthetical poetry, for the choreography, the beauty of the movements of Kenyan athletes parading on the track with their vibrant footwear. It was special for one of the most memorable moments of my sports and professional life: the epilogue of our heroine’s incredible journey: Peres Jepchirchir.
The journey begins – the birth of ‘MAJAMBO’
I needed to contextualize how the adizero adios Pro was created. It took months of research, engineering, testing and co-creation with our athletes. Our designers and engineers went to Kenya to test the product and improve it together with them. By them, with them and for them.
When our team first asked what the athletes wanted, they noticed they were always referring to the word MAJAMBO. Intrigued, our team tried to understand what that word meant. MAJAMBO is Swahili slang. It means something new, something different.
From that moment onwards, on each test, trial, improvement and prototype, the project was affectionately named by the athletes as MAJAMBO. Among the athletes who co-created this new innovation with us was Peres, who was to become one of the first athletes to take this product from testing to the race course.
The emotional journey of connecting with our athletes
On the Friday morning before the RunCzech 2020 half marathon, our mission was to meet the athletes on the rooftop for a pre-event photo session with the MAJAMBOs. I had some meetings scheduled with HQ, but I‘d cleared my agenda because these moments are a unique opportunity to meet the athletes, learn more about them, their stories, their ambitions and their lives.
Generally, the majority of long-distance athletes are shy, and we wanted them to feel comfortable. As soon as we started to share our stories with them, they felt the desire to share theirs with us. Pure and simple expression of their values and who they really are.
She was beautifully color-coordinated: Her perfectly braided pink hair and nails matched the colors of her MAJAMBO shoes.
We talked about her life: She had a joyful, but very painful childhood, losing her mom when she was two years old, brought up in a large family, but in an unfavorable environment.
Her biggest dream was to be number one in the world again, to prove to her daughter, her village, to her country, to all women and to the world that everything is possible as long as you believe in yourself and (literally) run after your dreams.
As she was telling her story, her temperament changed and she became more fluid and calm. Her youthful, energetic smile transformed into a kind, almost a fraternal expression. She told us that she was always very close to great achievements both professionally and personally, but always seemed to miss out by inches.
Finally, in the photo shooting she was holding the MAJAMBOs in her hands as if she was holding a crystal glass. At the end of the session she told me “Caio, I believe that MAJAMBO was the little thing that was missing. I want tomorrow to arrive soon to prove that I can do it again”.
We said goodbye, and she walked quickly to the other athletes and friends already with that youthful and energetic countenance.
It was 6:20am on race day and there she was with eight other athletes. Peres was one of the favorites, and when everyone lined up for the start, she was one of the last on the line.
The athletes ran in a pack as far as around the 5km mark, but then everything changed. Peres‘ demeanor was very different to the day before. Now her eyes were filled with fury, confidence and focus. Her racing technique was not very fluid and for a layman like me, she looked tired. On the contrary: Peres fired the front in a way that left everyone in the press area incredulous.
“Can she take it all the way?”
“I can’t believe she didn’t follow the race plan, she’ll break …”
The fact is that 7km before the end, she was running the race to finish two minutes below the world record (yes, two minutes!).
People were astounded by her performance. At this point, I was sure that in one way or another she would cross that line as the fastest in history. I quickly went to position our photographers and videographers just after the finish line and waited for about three minutes. In those three minutes, Peres’ entire journey came to my mind. Every detail, every word. I just tried to imagine what was going through her head at that moment.
At the same time, a mixture of feelings came to me: All of the sacrifices the teams at adidas had made for MAJAMBO to happen. All of the passion, energy and desire put into the project. It was our mission to help athletes to achieve their best and – as Peres rightfully described – to have that little bit extra push to accomplish the impossible.
Suddenly I was there on that magical moment: A NEW WORLD RECORD!
Peres crossed the finish line with a time of 1:05:34, lowering the world record by 37 seconds. I saw her eyes changing from fury and confidence to euphoria and happiness. And suddenly her hands covered her face, and I saw tears of pure joy and that same fraternal look from our first meeting in Prague.
Emotions set free
The next few seconds are sure to mark my entire life. Peres came towards us (I was with her manager and mentor) and gave us a hug. She looked into my eyes and said: “MAJAMBO, I told you… MAJAMBO! Thank you!”
In that second my eyes filled with tears and with that simple expression I knew exactly what she was saying to me. I knew everything that was behind that MAJAMBO. I was not Caio anymore. I was for her a representation of an entire brand. I was the representation of a journey, of an entire team committed to making the impossible happen together. And I also knew that she was wrong!
Wrong? Yes, wrong.
She was the one training tirelessly, dreaming and sacrificing so very much. She – among other athletes – was the one enabling us to create MAJAMBO in the first place. By them, with them and for them. And there she is, finally proving to everyone that as long as you believe in your dreams, the impossible happens.
At that moment, I wanted to tell her everything – all of it, but I couldn’t. The press had already taken over the place and with the new rules of social distancing, I would not be able to get closer.
Then, instinctively I removed one of the MAJAMBOs from my own foot, asked for a pen and wrote her record winning time on the side. It was the only way I had to express not only what I felt, but what everyone at adidas wanted to say.
It was our way of thanking her and paying a tribute not only to her achievement, but to all that she represented. I immediately gave her the MAJAMBOs. She looked at me and didn’t say anything.
Her look, her expression said it all.
As the news started to come out, I could see that that magical moment of Peres holding the MAJAMBO with her WR time written on it – with all the human and emotional context behind it – was the image chosen by the majority of the press to showcase her accomplishment.
I strongly believe that there is nothing more incredible in sport than the human, the emotions, the truth, the reality. Many may look at this image and think it was a brilliant marketing play. But the great truth is that it was nothing more than a person trying to express their gratitude in the simplest and most human way possible:
Thank you very much, Peres, for proving that the impossible is indeed possible.