An exclusive interview with Robert Kaxuxuena

Name: Robert Kaxuxuena
Date of birth: 06 November 1975
Occupation: Coach
Institution : Namibia Defense Force

A lot of people do not know who is behind Namibia’s Marathon queen, Helalia Johannes. You have continued to play a low key when it comes to being in the limelight for somebody who was once a marathon himself. Please share with us who is Mr Kaxuxuena?

My name is Robert Kaxuxuena, and am an athletics coach, currently am responsible for Helalia Johannes, Martha Shivolo, Daniel Paulus, Simon Paulus, Jessiya Matheus and 15 more. I would say coaching came naturally as I have had an interest in sports from a very early age. Infact when I was in Primary School, I got fascinated by sports and athletes.
I started my coaching career by coaching myself and then from there I started coaching other athletes from 2012. Soon after I realized that I have the skill to be a coach. I could coach long distance, but I didn’t have the skills to coach short distance.
I must give credit to Col. Hulme from the NDF Sports Division, when it was announced that the athletes at the Sports office needed a coach, for the road running. It was then that the other athletes decided that I should be their coach. From there it grew because the NDF athletes where performing well on a national and international level.
There after I was able to attend my first coaching course that was organized by the Namibian Olympic Committee and was offered by a Kenyan coach. I then attended my follow-up course that was offered by Athletics Namibia, focusing on Middle and long distance.

Was there any specific person who inspired you to first get into athletics and thereafter into coaching?
Yes there was. Elizabeth Mongudhi, encouraged me to take sports seriously and she was always supportive to us especially for the long distance running.
The travelling offered by the athletic competitions around the world and my vast interest in sports and seeing athletes from different countries compete inspired me to pursue a career in sports.
Working with top Namibian athletes, must be a big burden on your shoulders, but also there must be a lot of joy when things are going well. Can you share one of those proud moments in your career and what made it so special?
I have a lot of moments that I can recall, but one stands out and one of the proudest moment as a coach was when Helalia Johannes ran and won a marathon under two hours and twenty minutes in Valencia, Spain. This was a great achievement for me but even for Helalia as it added to her accolades and breaking the national record.
As I have indicated having an athlete of Helalia’s calible bring a lot of special moments, such as when she won a gold and a bronze medal in the commonwealth games, a bronze medal in the world championships, a gold medal in the world military games and a gold medal in the world military marathon championship. These moments are very special for me as a coach because she achieved medals in major competitions which is something special for any coach to witness in their coaching career.

Are there moments in both your career as a coach, as an athlete that you consider as your low moments?
It is sometimes devastating, when you have trained very hard for a competition and then just before the event an athlete get injured at the last minute. It is both painful and disappointing for both the athlete and the coach, but in sports you must be able to encourage the athlete to focus on the athlete’s recovery for future events and encourage the athletes to stay positive even though this particular event is gone by.

As a coach responsible for award winning athletes, what is it that you do not like about Namibian sports?
If you compare the treatment athletes in other countries are receiving from their government and bodies responsible for sports, it is very disheartening for a coach to be requested to prepare a team for a national competition, but to be told that there are no funds for preparation.
Having being an athlete myself I have learned to overcome these hiccups by encouraging myself to remain positive and share the little that I have with athletes and train hard for those specific events.

Lack of funding as you say is a setback for any coach, what strategies or mindset do you utilize to help you bounce back?
The unwavering support of my athletes and witnessing their determination and resilience fuels my own passion and dedication to find different ways to bounce back from any failure.

Do you think some of these challenges have contributed to your growth in any way?
I would not be where I am now, if I had not learnt for all the hiccups thrown at me of the years. We all need challenges if we are to become better. An athlete cannot become a champion if they do not push themselves beyond what is considered their limits. Working with athletes have taught me discipline and resilience in the areas of time management, and financial planning, those skills have helped me in assisting myself and my athletes with funding.
Are you a different person now, from what you were before?
I have grown from being an athlete to becoming a coach and being a coach is like being an artist, you see with your eyes the overall picture and potential of an athlete.

What lessons can you share about your career?
I’ve learned that sometimes you take people through training programs after they’ve won big races abroad and then they walk away and fabricate reasons to dislike you. This happens because they become prideful of their own skill.
I’ve also learned that there are some athletes that stay with you through any circumstance whether its win or lose or even when we have disagreements and we always come to a fair conclusion.

It sounds like a tough environment for an athletic coach? What advice do you have for anybody interested in venturing in athletic coaching?
I would say that there are so many things that are positive and negative in sports, but as an athlete or coach you must always focus on the positive side of things to survive in the sports industry.
I would advise new coaches to be optimistic even if their journey begins on a bad foot and to always remain positive and reflective whenever their athletes do not perform as expected.
For somebody working in the security forces, how do you balance between your personal life and your career?
I am able to do all my duties for the NDF, because the NDF also provides me with sufficient time to attend training and maintain balance in my social and family life.

What kind of support system, if any, has been instrumental in your success?
Financially, during the Olympic/Commonwealth Games years, I always receive some support from the Olympics Committee, but through my career it was mostly my athletes and myself. Morally I receive support from my family and the family of my athletes.

Can you share a typical training routine that you employ for your athletes?
These sessions would be done around marathon race pace depending on the terrain and altitude
● 4 laps x 10min + 2min rest
● 13 laps x 3min + 1min rest
● 25 laps x 1min +1min rest
The sessions will be a track session for example:
●10 x 800m + 90sec easy, 10 x 400m +90s easy
●1200m + 1 lap easy, 5 x 1km + 90sec easy, 3 x 300m + 60s easy, 2 x 200m +60s easy
●20 x 400m +50sec rest
●Long tempo runs at or just around marathon race pace. This would be between 80-95% of the marathon distance.
Endurance Running
● 20-40km

When you work with athletes how do you ensure a balance of their physical preparation with mental and emotional readiness?
Mental readiness starts with setting clear goals and maintaining a positive mindset. I guide my athletes in visualizing success, managing race-day nerves, and using positive affirmations. Mental conditioning techniques like mindfulness, meditation, and deep breathing help them stay focused and calm.
Long-distance training can be emotionally challenging. I create a supportive environment where athletes can express their concerns and fears. Regular check-ins help me gauge their emotional well-being and offer guidance on managing stress and anxiety.

Are there aspects of the sport that you enjoy or keeps you motivated?
The most enjoyable aspect of my profession as a marathon running coach is the opportunity to make a positive impact on athletes’ lives. Helping them achieve their goals and witnessing their growth as both athletes and individuals is incredibly rewarding. There’s a deep sense of pride in seeing my athletes stand on the podium, knowing that I played a role in their success. The motivation comes from the pursuit of excellence.

Are there any elements of the sport that you find particularly challenging or less enjoyable?
Injuries are part of sports that a less enjoyable because they can be a significant setback, both physically and emotionally, for both athletes and coaches. It’s tough to see an athlete’s training disrupted due to an injury. Additionally, managing the balance between pushing athletes to their limits while preventing burnout is a constant challenge. The marathon is a grueling event, and finding the right balance in training intensity and recovery is a delicate task.

How do you stay passionate and engaged in your work, even during tough times?
I stay passionate and engaged by reminding myself of the bigger picture and the impact I have on my athletes’ lives. Even when facing setbacks or challenges, I remember the victories, the progress, and the moments of pride. Reflecting on these positive experiences reignites my enthusiasm.
How has being a coach had an impact on your social life?
Being a coach has taught me how to be more punctual and developed my social skills as well as making me more conscious of my health.

What are your aspirations for the future?
My career goal is to coach athletes to make history in Namibian and Globally. My personal goal is to have my own athletics club in Namibia.

How do you what to be remembered?
I would like to be an inspiration to upcoming coaching to elevate their standards.

Looking back, what would you say has been the most valuable experience or lesson that you’ve gained from your journey?
I’ve learned that consistent hard work and dedication in anything yields excellent results no matter where you are or even where you come from.

If you could go back in time, is there anything you would do differently in your career or life path?
I wouldn’t change anything, my mistakes have made me learn things that I wouldn’t learn if everything went the way I wanted to.

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