Jacqueline Mwangi: My love affair with hockey and a lucrative escape in football
To upcoming hockey players, she is the ideal role model and to young football lovers, she is a super coach.
She stands out on matchday repeatedly giving her teammates instructions that eventually lead to victories.
Her passion for hockey, a sport she loved since her high school days at Pangani Girls, has earned her recognition and appointments locally and internationally.
Just like fine wine that gets better with age, hockey star Jacqueline Mwangi is surely ageing with dignity.
She is not your ordinary player but an excellent striker and leader on and off the pitch.
Not even a decade long break from hockey would stop her from reminiscing her glory days.
The days when she starred in secondary school games and desired to play for Kenya’s top women’s hockey club Posta which has since rebranded several times and is now known as Blazers are still fresh in her mind.
Jackie as she is popularly known, remembers with nostalgia the mid-1990s when she played hockey in school then would walk from her Madaraka home to play football at Nyayo Stadium during holidays.
“I played in school only because there were no hockey clubs I could join during the holidays and so I walked to Nyayo where I always trained and played with the Ministry of Culture and Social Services Football Club,” Mwangi said.
After four years of excellent performance in secondary school games and bagging several top scorer and Most Valuable Player awards Mwangi signed off on a high with the 1997 national gong.
From Pangani all she desired was to join Posta women’s team and continue playing hockey, but as luck would have it she secured a sports scholarship (football) at the Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tennessee. It was football that opened doors for her as she left the country in 1998 to study and play football in the United States.
Prior to leaving she had not only excelled in hockey, but was also a brilliant footballer and member of the 1996 Under 16 national girls’ football team.
In the US, she was the 1999 Martin Methodist College football top scorer.
Her star kept shining and in 2000 she got another scholarship at the Alabama University where she pursued a course in Mass Communication.
Upon completing her studies in 2002, Mwangi who had already made a name for herself in Alabama ventured into coaching.
Her first coaching engagement was at the Huntsville Soccer Club. “I had done well as a player both for Martin Methodist College and Alabama University and so I decided to venture into coaching and it was also during my time as coach that I became a mother so it was much easier for me to succeed imparting skills rather than playing,” Mwangi added.
Mwangi coached at Huntsville until 2007 when she decided to return to Kenya. She enjoyed success at the club winning several age-group tournaments with the girls in the state of Alabama.
For close to ten years that she stayed in the US, Mwangi says she focused on football but found a way to keep her hockey fire burning.
“One day I walked into a store and saw a hockey stick even though I had not budgeted for it I bought it and a ball. So I used to hit the ball whenever I was free and that is how I kept my love for hockey alive for years and it also helped me to unwind.”
Even after returning to the country, it was not until she met one of her close friends who encouraged her to start playing hockey again.
“I did not start playing hockey immediately I returned because I had my third child and it was also difficult to go back because it was close to ten years that I had never played so I never thought I could do well in the sport,” Mwangi said.
However, after her friend and former Pangani Girls coach James Akweri insisted, I gave in and joined Telkom later in 2007.
“I started training with Telkom because I wanted to regain fitness but they believed that I still had something to offer in the sport and so even after I regained my fitness I never quit but continued playing.”
It was not long before she got her mojo back becoming a regular member of Telkom which has since rebranded three times and is now Blazers.
“I worked very hard and the club was very supportive.
“Coach Jos Openda gave me a chance to prove myself and I made the best out of it.”
They say nothing good comes easy and Mwangi can attest to that having tested defeat in continental championships before the club finally got it right to dominate Africa.
“Club championships were very tough for us, we lost in 2007, 2008 and 2009 finishing second, 2010 was very bad for us because we finished out of the medal bracket which might have prompted us pulling out in 2011 because our sponsors were not impressed with our performance.”
Even so, 2011 was not all gloomy for Mwangi who is the country’s all time lead scorer in the Kenya Hockey Union women’s premier league having tormented goalkeepers since 2010 as she got her first national cap.
“I earned it, I worked twice harder than everyone else I woke up early to train so I could not only rely on team training and my hard work bore fruit because I cemented my place in the national team until I voluntarily retired in 2015 to prepare for my transition from playing to coaching.”
Telkom rebranded to Orange in 2012 and they returned to the continental champions, but this time they were much stronger and resolute to never fall again.
They fought a good fight and won the 2012 Africa Cup in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.
Mwangi would play a key role as they ruled the continent winning five back to back Africa trophies.
They fumbled in 2017 allowing bitter rivals Ghana Revenue Authority to dethrone them in 2017 but reclaimed the title in 2018.
They were hard hit last year when their long term sponsor Telkom withdrew their sponsorship forcing them to pull out of last year’s club championships.
Nonetheless, she believes that with support they will regain their place as Africa hockey queens. “We only changed from Telkom to Blazers but we are the same players eager to make Kenya proud, our only prayer right now is that a sponsor comes on board to ease our financial challenges so we can concentrate on what we do best that is win major trophies,” Mwangi said.
Though she spent most of her youthful years away from hockey, Mwangi boasts of winning six continental titles and 13 league trophies with Blazers.
She has also represented Kenya in various international assignments and scored the lone goal against Ghana that saw Kenya qualify for the FIH World League Two series in held in Montevideo, Uruguay in 2015.
She was recently appointed the women’s national team head coach and she is already set goals. “I served as an assistant coach since 2019 and I take the top job as a challenge, together with my able assistant coaches Barbara Simiyu and Glennis Namasake will be looking to take Kenya back to the top and I believe we have what it takes to make it happen,” she said.
Mwangi who is currently a sports teacher at Hillcrest School is indeed a queen of multitasking as she pursues her Masters in Education (Teaching and Innovation) from the University of South Wales.
In 2018 she graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Information Systems and Technology (Cyber Security and Forensics) from United States International University of Africa.
She is a certified football coach having undergone various coaching courses in the US while locally she is a certified FKF Level One coach. She is an expert with children and is involved in mentorship programs.
“I do a lot of mentoring through sports, I ran an organisation called Bravillians some years back in Dagoretti and through the program I mentored girls through football, unfortunately, we lacked resources but I still hope that we will revive Bravillians in future.”
She is the chairperson of the Africa Hockey Federation (AFHF) Athletes Committee and currently the only African on the 10-member International Hockey Federation (FIH) Athletes Committee.
“I was humbled to be tasked with this responsibility because chairing a continental body is no mean feat. The appointment challenged me to give more to the sport given that it is no longer just about me or Kenyan players but I’m entrusted with the welfare of all African players,” Mwangi said.
“My vision in the FIH Development Committee is to give each hockey player an opportunity to be the best they can be whether they just started playing or are experienced I want to create a favourable environment for them.”
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