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The Standard – Kenya: How Okama is juggling between hockey and rugby | The Standard



Hockey and Rugby player Elizabeth Okama. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Her striking physique and youthful beauty point out to Elizabeth Okama’s multi-sporting talents.

Whether she is firmly holding a hockey stick at City Park or perfectly fitting her headgear at the RFUEA Grounds, Okama who is christened Msito or Eshiombo- meaning a beautiful girl with strong legs endowed in areas that matter, she is indeed a sight to behold.

With her on the backline, hockey giants Blazers are confident of their defence.

And if you think she is only about hockey, wait until she hits the RFUEA Grounds or Impala Club. She will surprise you!

Walking boldly out of the changing room onto the pitch, even when the stakes are high like when her side Northern Suburbs is facing off with bitter rivals Mwamba, she is always ready to showcase her leg power.

The tackles, the scrum and every blade of grass she leaves behind offers a clear picturesque of her enormous talent.

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Born in Lugari, Kakamega County, Okama began playing hockey in 2007 when she joined Form One at Lugulu Girls High School.

“I was just passing on the fields at games time and I saw some girls hitting the ball with some sticks. I got excited and joined in. It was all new to me, I had never seen the sticks before and I didn’t know the game was called hockey,” Okama who draws her inspiration from Kenya hockey international and sprinter Hellen Chemutai, said.

Coach Stephen Wabukechi gave her a chance in the team. “I loved the game so much and never gave up even though for the four years in school we never qualified for the national games.

“Our school was a volleyball powerhouse and we would always lose to St Cecilia Misikhu in regional games.

“In 2010, we beat Misikhu at the group stage of the Western Region games. I will never forget that day; we celebrated like we had won the trophy but still fell short and were eliminated in the semi-final by Moi Girls Kamusinga.”

While in school, Okama also competed in shot put and discus throw but would ditch the two to focus on hockey.

She joined Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) to pursue a Bachelor of Science course in 2012.

At JKUAT she kept her hockey fire burning by playing in the men’s team and would even compete in tournaments with the men.

“When I joined JKUAT I was the only lady hockey player and I decided to play in the men’s team. I trained and played with them in friendly matches and tournaments. It was at one of the tournaments that Tinah Agunda invited me to Sliders after seeing me play in a men’s team.”

She played for Sliders from 2012 to 2014 when she signed for champions Orange who later rebranded to Telkom and now Blazers. Her star was shining brighter and she was looking forward to greater things. Just when she thought she would finally get her big break and earn her first national team cap, she sustained a knee injury.

With a torn meniscus, her dreams to make the cut in the squad for the 2015 International Hockey Federation World League Two held in Uruguay crashed.

“It was very painful to see all my hard work go up in smoke, I had put in a lot of effort, attended training religiously with the hope of making it to the final list but it was all gone in split seconds.”

Ruled out of action for six months after surgery, she longed for the day she will return to the pitch to do what she loved most.

Despite yearning to recover and play again she had to wait longer. “It was a very difficult time for me nursing the injury and keeping up with my studies, a few months into recovery I got in the family way and even though I was not ready for it I accepted and kept a low profile at the time.”

Her situation made her mother angry and at the time she felt extremely bad for failing her family, but looking back she has no regrets because she learnt a lot from her experience.

“Motherhood opened my eyes, I had not planned but I was now responsible for another life and it taught me invaluable lessons. I resolved to remain focused, work hard because I was determined to protect and provide for my daughter,” Okama said. 

After the long wait, Okama finally returned to action in 2017 but asked her then coach Jos Openda to allow her play for JKUAT for a season before returning to Telkom in 2018.

“I requested to play for JKUAT because I knew I couldn’t keep up with the pace at Blazers then Telkom and the coach was very supportive allowing me whole season to regain fitness.”

Before she could settle she suffered another upset when her father died in June 2018. The same year she received bad news that her daughter had lost her hearing ability.

“I was still mourning my father and so my daughter losing her ability to hear shook me to the core, it was very hard to accept,” the mother of one said.

As the saying goes, the harder you fall, the higher you bounce, the mother of one who graduated with a Bachelor of Science in 2015 is a fighter who was not ready to let the setbacks break her.

She soldiered on and in no time was in top form excelling in the sport she loves.

While she was still a student, she tried playing other sports and JKUAT’s former Sports Director Moses Ondeng would always give her a chance whenever a new discipline was introduced.

“In 2013, a Ugandan came to introduce woodball which is like golf to our university and Ondeng directed him to me. When a Dutchman came to introduce floorball in 2017 he also called me.

“ I learnt both sports played for a while then stopped because it was on the hockey pitch that I felt happier.”

She won a gold medal in 2014 when he represented the institution in East Africa University Games. Ondeng had all along encouraged her to also try out rugby due to her physique.

Last year, she eventually heeded Ondeng’s advice and went to the rugby pitch to watch the JKUAT team play.

She once again gained interest and started training with the men. After sharing her new found interest with a confidant in the hockey circles who recommended she joins Northern Suburbs Ladies RFC, she took the step of faith and went to their training at KCB Ruaraka Grounds.

“The coach and captain Victoria Gichuhe gave me a warm reception and I began training. They supported and taught me basic skills as well as the rules of the game.”

In no time, she had found a second home and she is eager to excel in both sports.

“I have a title schedule now but I’m determined to work it out.

“My goal is to defend the league title with Blazers and also excel in rugby because I want to play for Kenya Lionesses in the near future.

Away from playing, Okama loves farming and she says she is very good at it.

“Farming is my passion whether it is taking care of the animals, feeding, milking or tending to my tree nursery I do it to perfection, always the best in my family.”

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