Golden hockey oldies: Resilient super women who are not ready to drop hockey sticks yet

Sliders Anita Agunda(l) with the ball as USIU Sheila Ndaroh give chase when they played Premier Ladies at Citypark yesterday, on 08/10/2016 PHOTO; JENIPHER WACHIE

They mastered the art of balancing family life, working and playing

Chemtai, Ataro and Juma are among the legends of the game and still going strong. 

They wear many hats; they are mothers, mentors, coaches, career women, role models and decorated hockey players.

Talented and passionate about hockey, they have commanded respect for the long years they have devoted to the sport.

Certainly, history has a place for these brilliant ladies who have given the best years of their lives to hockey.

From the swift girl of the 1990s Hellen Chemtai to no-nonsense goalkeeper Josephine Ataro, consistent defender Terry Juma to the younger Anita Agunda these girls have indeed proved that age is just a number.

With a playing career spanning 28 years, Chemtai or Chemo as she is popularly known in the sporting circles is one of the a few Kenyan athletes who have succeeded in multiple sports.

Though she ruled athletics for years, she maintains that hockey was her first love. The mother of four who captained the women national junior and senior hockey teams to various international assignments admits that her journey was not easy.

“I had high and low moments in equal measure. It takes more than talent to last longer in any sport, you must be disciplined, dedicated, passionate and above all one needs to answer the critical why question. Understanding why I was playing inspired me to keep pushing even when circumstances presented me with reasons to quit,” Chemtai said.

Ataro who stands out as Kenya’s longest serving goalkeeper who has since transitioned into coaching concurs with Chemtai saying that it is what has kept him in the game for over two decades.

“Passion, discipline, hard work and willingness to learn is what has kept me in the game more than other players. I loved hockey so much that I took criticism as a challenge, sometimes I wouldn’t even sleep a night before and after a crucial match because I always wanted to play better than I did in the previous game,” Ataro said.

Right from her high school days at Pangani Girls Chemtai loved hockey despite featuring in other sports like athletics and volleyball.

“I was a very fast runner and did well in sprints as well as long jump, but hockey was my first choice. It was special, just like family where the coaches and senior players did more than train the younger ones, they mentored and cared for us.”

After competing in several schools competition, Chemtai impressed and would later join Inter-Capitale Kenya’s pioneer women’s hockey club while still a student.

In 1992, her prowess earned her the captain’s armband of the women’s junior team for the World Championships held in Spain.

“I played my heart out, until today it remains my best moment I was voted the most promising player,” she adds.

Chemtai who fondly refers to younger players as her daughters says that over the years she has witnessed many players fade away.

“Current players are not as passionate as my generation was, we played for passion there was pride in donning national team colours and monetary gain was just but a bonus that never determined our efforts.”  

She also competed in athletics locally and internationally, she says that it was a big challenge as Athletics Kenya was not committed to supporting sprinters.

Telkom orange player Hellen Chemutai when they played Women League with Strathmore at Citypark. ON 01/11/14 PHOTO: JENIPHER WACHIE

“I’m glad that times have changed and sprinters are now being given a chance to compete because in the past and during my time the officials believed that Kenyans could not excel in short distance races and usually scrapped them off opting to field middle and long distance runners in major events.”

She terms the events prior to the 2003 All Africa Games held in Abuja, Nigeria as devastating having been dropped from the squad after qualifying in 100m, 200m, long jump and triple jump.

“I had trained very hard and qualified only to be dropped and told that I will not travel because I was not going to win. I was heartbroken, I couldn’t leave the house I lobbied thanks the then Minister of Sports Najib Balala who supported me and ensured that I was reinstated in the team even though it was a night before travel date which affected my performance because I felt defeated and had no strength to train,” Chemtai said.

Chemtai represented Kenya in many international competitions before retiring in 2014. She says that being dropped from the national team for being ‘too old’ was the lowest moment of her hockey career.

“I think age should not be an issue as long as a player can deliver, I was left out of the squad but even at 42 years I was better than some of the younger players.”

She has also won four league titles and two Africa Cup of Club Championships trophies with Blazers formerly Telkom. She suffered a knee injury in 2018 and has been out of action and set to return after the league resumes. She is proud of her son Douglas Nyerere who is currently in Netherlands.

“My firstborn son is a dance instructor; I’m very happy and proud of Douglas because by playing in Netherlands he is living my dream. I had a chance to play professionally in Australia but didn’t because he was a month old and I had to give up that chance and so he has achieved what I desired to but couldn’t.”

She concludes that having been in sports for close to three decades the benefits are many and encourages upcoming players to set their priorities right and not focus much on money.

“Sports has made me what I’m today, there are very many benefits because one is protected from bad influence and also the discipline one learns goes a long way in shaping their lives. Passion should come first there is more to sports that monetary gain.”

Away from hockey, Chemtai is an expert in the field of Humana Resource.

Ataro who started playing hockey at Nyamira Girls says that for one to excel they must be ready to learn.

“I was a player ready to learn but I must say that it was because of the high level of discipline I had. I loved goalkeeper and it is the position I trained for since my first day, but unlike nowadays back in the day there were no goalkeeping coaches and so I had to do much of the learning on my own. I accepted corrections and learned something new from each game I never looked at the incentives but loved hockey and wanted to grow and become a better player,” she added.

Ataro who is now Blazers coach says she is saddened when talented players fizzle out because they lack passion for the game and look at what they will gain instead of what they can to offer.

“Current players have so much at their disposal because they are more exposed than us. Technology has made it easy for one to learn new skills from YouTube, live international matches but is sad that some of them only play for two years or five for those who hold on longer and disappear.”

For Juma despite not playing hockey in secondary school she has served Kenya for many years and is still on Blazers first 11.

She made history in 2017 when together with his son Robert Masibo of Kenya Police represented Kenya in the hockey Africa Cup of Nations cum 2018 World Cup Qualifiers held in Ismailia, Egypt.

Juma echoes Chemtai and Ataro’s sentiments saying that it is not possible to play for over 20 years without discipline.

Others that have defied age to excel in sports are Blazers team manager Rose Mbulo, Jacqueline Mwangi who was recently appointed women’s national team coach, Dorsillah Agunda and Anita.

Mbulo has served the national team for decades before an injury ended her playing career before she could venture into management. Mwangi who played at Pangani Girls took a break from hockey when she secured a football scholarship to study in the US in 1998.

She, however, rekindled her love for hockey in 2007 when she returned to Kenya and has since been one of the best forwards in the country leading Blazers to continental and league titles.

The mother of three troubles defenders and has won most league top scorers awards. Agunda sisters Dorsillah and Anita have been on top of their game for both national team and club Sliders.

Onyango was also a regular in the national team and also played for Sliders before taking up a coaching job with Amira Sailors in 2018.

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