Why Blazers’ Okumu ditched football boots for glory in hockey

USIU A's Phanny Teka (left) and Maureen Okumu of Telkom Kenya during Astro Turf tourney match at Sikh Union Club, Nairobi. Telkom beat USIU A 2-1 in the final period. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Her ability to run incredibly fast has seen her likened to speedy cartoon character Roadrunner

Former Sinyolo Girls student believes her club has what it takes to recapture the continental crown and continue ruling Africa.

She torments defenders and one needs a special pair of legs to keep up with her pace and contain her.

Christened Roadrunner, Blazers’ and national team forward Maureen Okumu is a pain in the neck of rival clubs in the Kenya Hockey Union women’s Premier League.

Those who grew up when Looney Tunes were every child’s favourite cartoon series are nostalgic about two characters: Roadrunner and Coyote.

It was indeed an interesting time to grow up! Those who had the luxury of owning a television set called the shots while others gave in to all of their demands so they could put in a good word for them so their parents could allow them to watch Roadrunner torture his nemesis Coyote.  

It is Okumu’s ability to run incredibly fast, covering the entire pitch in a very short time has seen her likened to speedy Roadrunner who made Coyote miserable by subjecting him to countless disasters as he often fell in his own traps.  Speed coupled with her enviable hockey prowess has set her above others.

Not even the Covid-19 pandemic that has brought almost to a standstill every activity can stop Okumu from working on her speed. She wakes up early and is ready for her morning run by the break of the overnight curfew.

“I must workout everyday and my day starts with running because I have to ensure that I keep fit and can still run fast because speed is my biggest strength. I run about five kilometers each morning for five days a week,” she said.

Okumu began playing hockey after joining Lwak Girls High School in 2011. Then, a promising footballer, she looked forward to success in football beyond secondary school. However, destiny had other plans for her as Lwak Girls hockey coach Elias Okal saw her play football and was impressed with her speed.

“Mr Okal invited me to the hockey training and after a session with the team, he told me to never return to the football pitch. He made sure that I had everything I needed to play hockey. He gave me shoes, socks and a hockey stick, he also came to class every games time so he could encourage me as we walked to the training ground,” Okumu said.

She learned basic hockey skills with the 2009 national schools champions before transferring to Sinyolo Girls while in Form Two in 2012.

“I had made it to the first team and I was impressive during the Nyanza Province games so I caught the eye of Booker Odhiambo, a teacher and coach at Kisumu Day who facilitated my move to Sinyolo,” she said.

It was at Sinyolo that she tasted victory in 2013 when the school won both the national and East Africa Secondary Schools Games titles and since then, she has been winning titles every year.

“When I transferred to Sinyolo, I blended in immediately with other players because we were familiar with each other having met during the previous events. My teammates like Gilly Okumu, who currently plays for Strathmore, were also hungry for trophies and we formed a formidable side and dominated our opponents.”

Okumu would lead her charges to their second East Africa title the following year despite relinquishing the national crown to St John’s Kaloleni. After school, Okumu signed for the-then Africa champions Telkom Orange that re-branded to Blazers last year.

“I was scouted by coach Josephine Ataro at the school games and was given a chance in the club after school, but I started training with the team in 2015. Since then, I have always been in the first 11 and only missed one match due to card suspension.”

She made the best of every opportunity given to her by the club and even scored in her first international game for Blazers during the 2015 Africa Cup of Club Championships (ACCC) held in Lusaka, Zambia.

Okumu was on a successful outing bagging her first continental gold medal at club level the same year. She has won three Africa and five Premier League gongs and says her side would have successfully defended the ACCC trophy last year had they travelled to Egypt for the annual tournament.

“We lost our title without a fight but I’m convinced that we are the best club in Africa. I believe that after we overcome the financial hardships we are currently facing, we will reclaim our trophy,” she added.

The rain started beating the 10-time Africa champions when Telkom withdrew their sponsorship mid last season. Okumu, who is pursuing a degree in education at Kenyatta University was hit hard by the withdrawal and was forced to defer her studies.

“I depended on my allowances to pay fees and upkeep but without sponsorship, I had to defer my studies.”

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