Why national team star Guchu’s rise to the top has not been smooth

Caroline Guchu (L) of Telkom contest for ball with Phanice Ayieko of USIU-A during their Hockey Premier League match at City Park hockey stadium in Nairobi on June 08, 2019. Telkom won 2-1. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

Former Kerugoya Girls player has had to overcome many challenges including losing her mother while on national team duty

She was the first Kenyan captain to lift the East Africa Secondary Schools girls’ hockey title.

Since childhood, Kenya and Blazers midfielder Caroline Guchu believed that nothing could beat the power of self belief.

It is with that conviction that she gave her all to everything she did ensuring that she attained success no matter how difficult the task was.

An all-rounded individual Guchu was multi-talented in sports and played handball, athletics, volleyball and football in her formative years until she discovered that hockey was her true love.

She enjoyed sports and wanted to succeed, rise to stardom and become a celebrated star just like many Kenyan athletes she had watched on television.

Just like the stars she had admired she knew too well that the best place to start her journey was in secondary school.

In 2005 she thought that success was instant, she had just joined Form One at Kerugoya Girls and without much struggle made it to the school’s handball first team.

They excelled at the Kirinyaga District and qualified for the Central Province school games. Earning a trip excited her and ignited the desire for more outings.

She was a multi-talented and a promising footballer. It was while playing football in 2006 that the then Kerugoya girls hockey coach Joseph Maina convinced her to join the hockey team.

“Coach Maina believed that as long as a student was active in any sport they had the potential to excel in any discipline and so he urged me to join the hockey team,” Guchu said.

She heeded Maina’s call and started as a goalkeeper before switching to the midfield.

“He (Maina) thought that I could make a great goalkeeper but I was afraid of the shots and so I approached him and expressed my fears. He was a good listener and he agreed to train me in field play. I worked very hard in training because I didn’t want to let him down.”

Her efforts paid off and she mastered the basic playing skills. However, it was not easy to get play time due to competition for slots in the team.

“Hockey was the only sport that was doing very well in our school and so because of the success and trips it was every student’s favourite,” she added. 

However, as Sir Winston Churchill once said success is going from failure to failure without losing the enthusiasm, Guchu had her fair share of disappointment.

Despite putting in extra hours to improve her game, Guchu’s dreams to play at the 2006 national games crashed when they lost to Maryhill Girls High School in the Central Province games final.

In 2007, Kerugoya fell to Maryhill for a second year in a row. Though Guchu lost to Audrey Omaido and Margret Rotich who would later become her teammates at Telkom Orange that rebranded to Blazers last year, she bursts into laughter as she remembers how it all happened.

“Their coach (Maryhill coach) was something else, how could we even win against them? He came to the pitch with a public announcement system to cheer his girls, that alone frightened us,” she added.

After two years of heartbreak, they finally got it right making it to the 2008 national games in her final year of high school.

It was a good year for Kerugoya as they went all the way to the final losing to Pangani Girls 4-5 flicks after the march had ended in a barren draw.

As the captain Guchu was determined to fight for her school and was not ready to let anything stop her as it meant enduring pain after breaking a finger during the grueling final encounter.

“I did not disclose to the team or even our coach that I had broken my finger because it would have dampened their spirits. I remained silent and played to fulltime, it was a very important moment for our school and even though we did not win the title we made a statement by stretching the city giants to a tie-breaker.”

Having proved their worth at the national games, there was no looking back for Guchu and her charges as they embarked on preparations for the East Africa games. They had everything to train hard for, a chance to make history, pride to represent Kenya at the regional games and to spice it up a trip to Kigali, Rwanda.

“We were very excited, it was a first in all aspects, hockey was going to be played at the East Africa games for the first time, a first trip out of the country and a chance to become the first regional champions, we had every reason to work hard it was very exciting,” she remembers with nostalgia.

Kigali presented Guchu a final chance to become a schools champion and she made the best out of it leading her side to the historical victory. Maina says that he believed Guchu would deliver.

“She was very talented and commanded respect from other students easily influencing them. So I made her the captain because I believed that apart from being hardworking and learning very fast she would also influence other players into working hard for positive results,” Maina said.

While at the school games, Guchu had caught the eye of current women’s national team assistant coach Glennis Namasake of Blazers.

Namasake ensured that Guchu joined the former continental champions after school.

“I joined Telkom Orange (Blazers) in 2009 and even though I had been training with the veterans prior to that I almost quit because club hockey was very tough and demanding. I’m very grateful to the late Betty Tiony and Jacqueline Mwangi for encouraging me not to give up. Mwangi made sure I never had any reason to miss training as she dropped me home after every session.”

Since joining the hockey giants, Guchu has won six Africa Cup of Club Championship trophies, 11 league titles and other tournaments.

Her star kept shining making her international debut in 2012 where Kenya finished second behind South Africa in the 2012 London Olympic Qualifiers held in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.

In spite of winning countless gold medals, Guchu says that winning the International Hockey Federation (FIH) World League Series One and qualifying for round two which was held in Montevideo, Uruguay is the highlight of her playing career.

However, it is also during that tournament that she had to show her strength and courage as she was still grieving the loss of her mother. “It was a very tough and my lowest moment, I had just lost my mother and I knew life has never been the same again. I was grieving but I had to overcome my grief, my mother had supported and always wanted me to be the best I could be so I had to gather courage and return to national team training because the country and team also needed me.”

Guchu who is one of the best midfielders in the country has been a regular in the national team and has never missed a spot since 2011.

She says that playing for the top club in Africa has been possible due to the passion and dedication of her teammates and the technical bench led by long award winning coach Jos Openda.

“It is amazing playing in a top club it is more of a family. Everyone fights and wants the best for the team. I have grown since joining as a junior close to a decade ago and I’m grateful to the team for they have all contributed to my growth more so to Tiony and Rose Mbulo who molded me into a dependable midfielder. I have also learned that staying at the top is very hard and calls for more work and sacrifice.”

She ventured into coaching and has had been training students back in Kirinyaga. “I want to transition into management and I have been developing my coaching skills so as to gain more experience. I coach students but my aim is to manage top teams in the near future.”

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