Hockey girl: I can’t live without my dogs, we eat, play and sleep together
For any professional sportsperson, an abrupt career disruption can be a nerve-racking, mind boggling affair.
In all sports, players mature and wither. Form comes and goes. Momentum shifts. Stars periodically align, but such has been the experience have had to grapple with since Covid-19 turned the entire globe upside-down in early 2020.
One such player is Winnie Ivayo, who is now pondering how life will be when the new season of the Kenya Hockey Union (KHU) League bullies off after Bank of Africa (BOA), formerly Vikings, were relegated from the top tier to the National League last season.
But that worry can take backseat, for now. Ivayo has settled on new hobbies and they keeping her busy away from the limelight even as she reflects on a lost season and the challenges brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.
Ivayo, who lives in Eldoret, still hopes that Covid-19 will pass and leave behind a structure strong enough for them to rebuild their league in 2021.
But for now, she is happy to spend most of her time with her best friends — Snowy, Misty, Rusty and Cassey — her four pet dogs that she says have filled up her empty life and given her reason to look forward to a better future amid the chaos around her sports career.
Her love for man’s best friend complements the adrenaline-filled trait of a sporting gene in the hockey queen, who is also thrilled by speed and big racing bikes. However, she is not about to shift her career from hockey, a game she was introduced into by default way back in primary school.
“Bikes and racing is a new found hobby,” she says during an interview on an easy evening.
“I’m still learning how to bike, though. I have a friend, who is into biking. I met some of his friends who link up over the weekend and we go for a ride. It’s for fun. It’s all about speed.”
But while Ivayo hopes that she will help guide BOA back to the top tier of hockey competition in the country, someday, her heart might go into something completely different. There has been no hockey action since March last year, meaning her monthly income from the sport has been cut off. But an enterprising Ivayo has devised survival tactics to stay afloat, financially speaking, as Covid-19 continues to decimate sports and economy in general. Ivayo has turned to grooming animals for a fee.
“I would wish to start an animal sanctuary someday, to rescue animals, mainly dogs and cats and give them shelter and medication and food. They also need proper care since I do grooming as a part time gig,” she says.
Ivayo comes from a sporting family. Her father, James Nyongesa, was a boxing coach during his time in the Kenya Army while her elder brother, Bonventure Alusa is a former hockey player with Kisumu Simba and Kisumu Youngsters. Bonventure is also a certified Chess arbitrator.
Daniel Mminjis, her other brother, is a certified Confederation of Africa Football (CAF) coach and currently coaches an Under-16 team in Kisumu. In this family, everyone has played a game at some stage in life. Her late mother, Tekla used to play netball in school while her elder aunt Emma and the youngest uncle also played soccer.
“When I was still in primary school, I remember my brother (Bonventure) used to make us play (hockey) against him whenever he didn’t have friends to play and partner with.
“I first saw a hockey stick while I was in primary school through my brother (Bonventure), who brought one home from high school and they would play with a neighbour. So occasionally, I would see guys training at the (Kenyatta) sports ground and when I joined high school, I had developed interest for the sport,” adds Ivayo, who was named after her grandmother.
She talks about her journey into the world of hockey, a game Kenya dominated at the Olympics before poor structures and lack of visionary leadership led to its death and burial at City Park. That’s how she fell in love with the game of stick and the white ball.
But then the dogs came along. Ivayo reveals that her love for dogs was incubated in her at a tender age by a friend, Christine Sang after watching her friend’s intimate relationship with her two dogs — Lizzy and Christy.
“I was inspired by Snowry from Tintin (story book), but I got hands-on from Christine. I spent too much time with them and that’s where I got the basics of staying with a dog. Snowy is the eldest of the four dogs and yet the tiniest. I named her Snowy after Tintin Snowy in the comic books of the “Adventure of Tintin.
“I loved the Snowy character. How intelligent he was. Rusty came about because he looks shaggy,” she adds.
But again, how expensive is it for a player who has been out of active competition for close to a year to sustain the presumably high-expense life of a breeder dog?
“I spend between Sh4000 and Sh6000 on food for the four of them and this is because they take one meal and snacks in the course of the day,” she says.
The former captain of University of Nairobi (UoN) hockey team is so attached to her dogs just like she was with the historic victory her campus team registered against Strathmore University in a KUSA final in 2012 when she was about to kick start her club hockey career with Vikings.
“I can’t live without my dogs. I love hockey, no doubt about it, but I’ll definitely drop the hockey stick for my dogs. My dogs come first!” Ivayo says when she is probed to pick between Hockey and her adorable pets. “They are my companions. We speak, eat, play and even sleep together. The love and loyalty they grant me, I have to be loyal too,” she adds.