There is a local Ganda proverb,loosely translated it says: anyone who never knew you in your vibrant youth has no idea of your capabilities. I could compare it to the English saying: I used to wear Stilettos.
I for one used to run like a hare. That is how I found myself in my High school 4 by 110 yards relay team from the age of 12 until I celebrated my 18th birthday. I also competed in the 220 yards race and the Long Jump. By then I was of medium weight and height and as confident as a lioness in the Savanna!
For six consecutive years, our relay team dominated the annual National School Athletic Championships, making us proud and famous. I always took the first position, Alice took the second, Esther took the third while Catherine took the fourth position and was our anchor. We entered the race to compete and win. To get there, we invested time, energy and efforts. We loved it and gave it our all.
We prepared for these Athletic championships for weeks. The late Polycap Kakooza , a parent of the school, and a member of the National Council For Sports volunteered to coach us. Three times a week, we would be at the well- maintained grass sports field with him at 6:00AM to the dot. Many times we would be shivering in the cold but once the rigorous warm up exercises started, we would be smiling. Barefooted and donning our yellow sports tunics we would ran round the field, practice how to hand over batons and how to keep in our lanes.
Time over time, he instilled in us what he called the three keys to success:
• that the race required speed, endurance and great depth of talent on the team.
• that working together, everyone would win. Each member’s efforts mattered greatly to the whole group. There was no room for loafing; each member had to do her part exceptionally well.
• We had to meet the challenges through hard work and dedication as a team and were to win as a team.
Later in life when I came across Ash Hoehn’s They told me there is no “I” in the team, where he recognizes that when the “I” is absorbed then he becomes part of something much more powerful. For me it was like preaching to the already converted.
Our coach was so good that not on any single occasion did I make a false start or any of us ever dropped the relay button or strayed from her lane.
Traditionally, the 4 by 110 yards relay is usually the last event of track events therefore it is watched by an enthusiastic crowd. I can hear the deafening cheers today as our anchor crossed the finish line. I would shout myself hoarse as I cheered her along. Thereafter, the four of us would hold our hands together and let it reality sink in. It brought so much joy to us while at the same time motivating us to do much better the following year. We recognized early on that being the best came with a price tag-working harder to remain at the top.
Arguably, we were given an opportunity to show off our ability. Our reward was a Uganda Bookshop Voucher worth Twenty Ugandan shillings. It could buy at least three books by then. During those six years, I bought many books and novels from the well-stocked Bookshop using the Relay, Long Jump and 220 yards vouchers. It fuelled my reading habit fiercely. I remember that period of time with a lot of joy and gratitude. I am the richer for having had such competitive experiences.
The words of the American ballet dancer, Misty Copeland ring so true: “My childhood is a part of my story, and it’s why I ‘m who I am today and why my career is what it is.”
Looking back now, I recognize that I gained much more than the victory and the books by being a member of my school relay team. The ancient Greeks who started the first recognized Ancient Olympic Games in 776 BC believed that sports made us better people and at the same time kept us fit and healthy. Yes, I admit that I am a better person for having been an athlete. Sports helped me to develop virtues which I continue to apply in almost in any endeavor in life.
Among the most prized virtues are:
- Self-knowledge- In your quest for human excellence, you first have to know yourself: your strength and weaknesses. You have to recognize and confront your weaknesses in order to improve. You are a ‘work in progresses’ so your strengths can also be refined.
- Discipline- to train regularly, pushing yourself to do better without burning out or maiming yourself.
- Courage- to stick to the good and persevere despite the outcome. Winning is not everything so you have to value it mainly because of the virtues associated with it. You have to be tough and intelligent enough to know when to quit too.
- Working as a team – whatever you choose to do or be in life, you start as an individual but along the way, you are always helped by teachers, mentors, sponsors and friends to achieve your goal.
As I grew up and matured I applied these virtues in marriage, parenthood and in the medical profession. They served me exceptionally well; probably that is why I am writing this post.
Our team motivated many youths and young adults because everyone loves a winner. Which Ugandan can forget our two Olympic golden boys: Akii-Bua (RIP) and Stephen Kiprotich?
Having said that, everyone is also quick to withdraw admiration for any sportsman or woman who wins illegitimately. Who can forget the 1988 Olympics in Seoul? Ben Johnson, the Canadian sprinter, for the men’s 100 metres was stripped off his Olympic gold for doping. In the blink of an eye, he fell from hero to zero. Who can also forget how Lance Armstrong the seven –times Tour de France winner fell from grace to disgrace for drug use in October 2012?
My sincere wish is for sports to continue being part of a child’s education. As it fires the child to cultivate human excellence, it endows
her/him with great principles and values which he/she will need all her/his life.
“ Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere,’’ so says one Chinese Proverb.
Were you a Sportsman or sportswoman? How did this experience contribute to who you are today?