On her SYM 200cc, Rosemary Owino can find no other word than “freedom” to describe what it feels like to ride a bike. She smiles, almost daydreaming as she describes the feeling, “I’m in control and I can literally ride until the sun goes down!” She talks animatedly about her passion for bicycles.
His love for two wheels, however, fades in comparison, even oblivion, on a hierarchy. Her greatest passion is the sport of tennis and when it comes to the ‘game of love’ it is either feast or famine for her. There is no in-between. Over the years, she has done it all or not at all.
During her senior year of high school at Mukumu Girls, Ms. Owino fell on old wooden rackets while on school grounds as punishment.
Next to the rackets were old tennis balls and looking around she saw a net set up between two posts on a patch of tar where a real tennis court once stood.
She bounced the ball awkwardly – up and down – before another girl came over and asked her if she wanted to play. The two came back the next day, and the day after.
It continued like this until the volleyball team – Mukumu’s pride and joy – then came out for competition, Ms. Owino asked if the tennis ‘team’ could join.
“We went out and tied the victory for the volleyball team!” she remembers her first competition. In fact, they made it to the Nationals where the Nairobi team wiped the floor with them.
The seed has been sown.
In letters to her cousin in Nairobi, Ms Owino told of her newfound love and, coincidentally, her cousin was living next door to a tennis coach. “I begged my mother, through my brother, to let me go to Nairobi,” Ms Owino said of her way to the big city.
Father of the modern game
The night she arrived in Nairobi, her cousin took her to meet the coach. Mrs. Owino shook hands with Peter Wachira for the first time that night. She didn’t know it but she was in the presence of the father of the modern game in Kenya.
“He said I should go to the Public Service Club the next morning,” Ms Owino recalled.
Eager to please, Mrs. Owino was at the agreed place the next day. She was shocked when she was asked to bang on the wall by herself, day after day. “He didn’t seem to realize that I had played in the Nationals,” she said sarcastically.
A relationship quickly blossomed, however, and Ms Owino discovered her current passion – coaching – when she asked Coach Wachira to let her play with a young girl in his care.
She quickly took to it and was noticed by the current secretary general of Tennis Kenya, Wanjiru Mbugua-Karani, among others. Coach Wachira’s parting words when Mrs Owino had her first client were: “Don’t take less than 1,000 shillings!” And on her way she went.
Her family had always thought it was a flavor-of-the-week fad that would soon lead her to a “real career” as a banker, her family’s profession.
“My late brother called me and said, ‘It’s time to stop this madness, you have to get a real job!’ » Interviews were arranged. She did not honor them.
Pushed against a wall, Ms Owino found herself in an office in the middle of town, clutching an envelope with school certificates. Before it was her turn, she fled. It wasn’t for her.
Her brother kicked her out of his house that night. Later he would come back and even fund a bus ride to South Africa – there and back – which Ms Owino begged. “I told him it was going to change my life,” she says. And he did.
His perspective on the sport of tennis has shifted from a local to a global view.
Since then, Ms. Owino has coached and worked with top players in Kenya and Africa. She was a mainstay at the High Performance Center in Pretoria, South Africa, where she was based for nearly a decade.
feather in her crown
To add a feather to her crown, she served as the sports scientist in charge of the minute details of athlete performance with the Kenyan team at last year’s Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.
Asked how she coped with the daunting task of the Olympics, Ms Owino listens to her memory as she watched Mozambican legend Maria Mutola take Caster Semenya through her paces at the High Performance Center in then South Africa. South. The likes of Isaac Makwala were only a wave away.
These days, Ms. Owino and her partners run an academy called Extreme Tennis where they’ve gone back to basics and are trying to raise the next generation of tennis superstars – hers is a life of extremes.
The embodiment of coaching
She recounts what she calls one of the most profound experiences of her coaching career.
“We were playing the Davis Cup final in Egypt against Zimbabwe. Halfway through the game, it gets tight. I believe we can win this game. I turn to Ismael Mzai and ask him, “What are you comfortable doing between those two things?” He turns to me, looks me straight in the eye and says, ‘Coach, you tell me what you want me to do and I’ll do it!’ »
In Ms Owino’s book, bringing a player to a level where he trusts you completely and will do anything you ask him to do is the epitome of coaching.
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