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Kenya Women’s Volleyball team and Kenya Pipeline middle-blocker Jepng’etich wins cancer battle

VOLLEYBALL AND HANDBALL By Rodgers Eshitemi | February 20th 2017
Kenya Pipeline's Spiker Ruth Jepng'etich is closely monitored by Instructor Chrispus Sabatia during training at Kenya Pipeline Gymnasium in Nairobi on Friday, Feb 10, 2017. [PHOTO: JONAH ONYANGO/STANDARD]

National volleyball team player back in training after two months in hospital with life threatening disease

When Kenya Women’s Volleyball team and Kenya Pipeline middle-blocker Ruth Jepng’etich suffered a life-threatening disease in September 2015, just a week after arriving from the FIVB World Cup in Japan, and many thought her career was over.

The 26-year-old star was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL) at a Nairobi hospital. NHL is a cancer that starts in cells called lymphocytes, which are part of the body‘s immune system.

Coming back from such deadly illness, more so in sports, requires a great deal of courage and determination.

It was not only a big blow to Pipeline, but also the national team, Malkia Strikers, where she had established herself as one of the key players. The set-back saw her miss the remainder of the 2015 season as well as the following campaign.

Kenya's Ruth Jepngetich celebrates her point against Cameroon during their Africa Cup of Nation ata Kasarani Gymnasium on June 17, 2015.PHOTO/DENNIS OKEYO/STANDARD

However, the 2015 African Club Championships and African Cup of Nations best blocker has defied all odds and demonstrated her sheer strength of character and is on a comeback trail after getting a clean bill of health from the doctors.

Her career was all but over, but after 15 months of patience, prayers and optimism, she has hit the gym to intensify her recovery process.

And after spending two months at Nairobi Hospital and one year in rehabilitation, Jepng’etich's determination and unwavering self-belief is paying off. She started working on her fitness on January 4 and is expected to join the rest of the team in a few weeks.

National volleyball team player back in training after two months in hospital with life threatening disease

Despite the pain she went through after being ranked seventh in the block category in Japan and how helpless she was when hospitalised, the soft-spoken former Pipeline captain never gave up on playing volleyball again.

"I had severe back pains while in Japan and thought it was a just a normal back problem. But a week after arriving in Nairobi, I underwent several tests, and it was found out that it was NHL. I never thought that could happen to me. It was devastating, but I was hopeful.

"Those were tough times, but you have to be mentally strong for you to overcome them," Jepng'etich told Feverpitch after a light training session at the team's training court, in Embakasi.

"There was fear that I will never play volleyball again. It was not an easy journey, but I never gave up and by the grace of God I am back again to play the game I love. I am at a stage where I can see light at the end of the tunnel and playing volleyball again is becoming a reality. I encourage other cancer patients not to give up on life because with faith, everything possible and all diseases are curable.“

She was incredibly frustrated on how helpless she was when Malkia Strikers failed to secure the 2016 Rio Olympic Games ticket.

"There was a time I felt like coming on to the court to assist my team(s) but I couldn't. I just had to accept my situation. But I am pleased with Pipeline‘s progress so far because my absence didn‘t affect their performance. I know it will not be easy to get back into the team, but I am ready to fight for my place. However, I felt so bad when Malkia Strikers failed to qualify for Rio Olympic Games.

"I believe we would have qualified if I was in the team. It is a journey I had started with the team and I was hopeful of playing in Rio. But everything happens for a reason," Jepng'etich said.

Even as she banks on an April return to the Kenya Volley Federation League champions, Jepng'etich thanked her teammates, family, friends, fans and Kenya Pipeline Company for the relentless support.

"Receiving a clean bill of health from the doctor was the best news. And the reception I got from my teammates when I re-joined them for a few weeks was close to none. I am eager to play again and I have already started working out in the gym," she said.

"I cannot predict my return date but just know I will be back very soon. It is the best feeling ever to be back in training. I might be available for the Africa Club Championships in Tunisia.

"I thank my teammates and Kenya Pipeline Company for the support and encouragement they gave me. I also thank my family, fans for their prayers and reassuring messages. I have fully recovered and ready to play. So, be patient, Ruth is coming back stronger than ever."

Although Pipeline coach Japheth Munala is surprised by Jepng'etich's  quick recovery, he has backed his former captain to make a strong comeback ahead of the league and next month's African Club Championships in Tunisia.

"Ruth's return to the team is a very big boost; she‘s a complete centre player. She has been fighting a life-threatening disease that most people don't come through. But I am happy she overcame it and she is now back with us," Munala said.

"She is bringing in new strength that we didn't have last year. I am happy to see her working out, trying very hard to rebuild the muscle mass she lost while ailing. It is my hope that she will be fit before the league serves off next month."

Recalling her past critical condition at the hospital, Munala admitted that he feared Jepng‘etich might never play again.

"From the condition she was in, I never thought of her playing volley ball again. It was a critical condition to say the least.

"We were just praying for her to recover and be seeing her either on the bench or as one of our fans. But I am happy our prayers gave her strength to come out. She is now back on her feet with a lot of strength, energy and the will to play for us," Munala said.

But following her untimely return, the national women‘s deputy coach said that they have enforced a strict daily routine to get the middle-blocker back fit.

Pipeline captain and 2016 KVF League Most Valuable Player Trizah Atuka was equally happy to have Jepng‘etich back in the team and assured her of full support from the team.

"We are happy to have her back and it is a big boost to the team. We thank God that she has fully recovered and we know that with time and good training, she is going to catch up.

"Of course she has to start from somewhere, but we will be so glad if she comes back stronger. We are here to support her all the way," Atuka said.

Asked how difficult it was to play without such a key player and how supportive they were to her, Atuka said: "It was very hard to play without her because she fell sick when we were nearing the play-offs. So, we had to work extra hard and win the trophy for her so that she doesn't feel emotional.

"At least our 2015 league title victory made her feel good. We really missed her, but we are glad she is back. We used to visit her in hospital on a weekly basis as a team and also as individuals.

"We kept on encouraging her all the time. I really thank KPC for the support they gave her too. They catered for everything including the hospital bills and she received the best treatment. "

Celebrated and experienced setter Janet Wanja, who credited Jepng'etich for a number of the individual club awards she won before her illness, admitted that watching her teammate struggle with just the simplest of tasks at the hospital was heart-breaking for the team.

"Ruth played a big role in my individual awards at different club championships.

"She used to complain about back aches while in Japan, but we never knew it serious," Wanja said.

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