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Philadelphia Olando is the current Kenya Women’s skipper and will be looking to lead the Lionesses to an impressive outing at the Tokyo Olympics set for July 2021.

KRU’s Wambui Mumbi recently had a sit down with the Lionesses skipper and this is how it went.

Wambui: Who is Philadelphia Olando?

Phila: I am a strong willed, loving, never say die person, born in Migori county and partly raised in Kisumu and its environs. I went to Migori Primary and St Vitalis Nanga. I am a trained life skills personnel, FIFA Level 1 Coach, First woman in Kenya to receive the World Rugby Strength and Conditioning level 2 Certificate, an Olympian (2016) and a KCB volleyball team Strength and Conditioning Coach.

Phila Olando in her role as S&C coach at a KCB Volleyball fixture

Wambui: Did you always love sports? And if so, which sport did you play before rugby?

Phila: I have always been fascinated with sports since I was young. Football was my first sport.

Wambui: How did you get into rugby? What was the inspiration?

Phila: Well,I was playing football and was on my way to playing for the national team. My friends were the inspiration for me to join rugby; former Lionesses Captain Doreen Remour, who was also a former football player who we used to compete with from time to time played a major role in luring me into rugby.

Wambui: Given that rugby is largely perceived to be a man’s sport, how did your family and friends react when you decided to play rugby?

Phila: Sports disciplines in general are male dominated and as such women are seen as intruders. My family did not know about my decision to play rugby but with time my dad learnt of it but he neither discouraged nor encouraged me.

At the beginning, my close friends were discouraging me but on seeing the progress I was making, they turned to be great supporters. Many of them ended up joining me.

Olando in action against Argentina at the HSBC Women’s Sevens World Series qualifiers in Hong Kong in 2019/Photo Credit/Jan Perlich/Ministry of Rugby

Wambui: What are your best and worst rugby memories

Phila: Facing South Africa in the 2014 CAR Women’s 7s finals in Machakos after defeating Tunisia in the semifinals. Irene Otieno and myself had been cited in the quarters after facing Senegal and we weren’t sure if we’d be allowed to take part in the remaining games. Luckily, we were allowed back to play the final after a one-match ban though we eventually lost.

My worst moment is when we lost captain fantastic Aberdeen Shikhoyi after the 2012 Elgon Cup first leg in Uganda, she was such a talent and I’m honored to have been captained by her.

Wambui: How did it feel breaking into the national team?

Phila: It was very exciting and challenging. I honestly wasn’t sure when it was going to happen since we had more seniors in the team who were still active and I was only 17yrs old at the time.

Wambui : How does it feel captaining the national team?

Phila: It is first and foremost an honour and a privilege to lead the national team but it’s also added responsibility on my part.

It’s carrying the weight of the nation on your back. It’s being a leader and a role model.

It’s both fun and demanding in equal measure. You have to lead from the front, both in the good and bad times. Everyone will never agree with you all the time but they will always respect you if you lead by example. It’s never easy and people expect you to be perfect and always having solutions for everything, which is never the case.

As a leader sometimes it’s lonely as you try to ensure that the team is focused and that you are all focusing towards the desired goal. Being a captain in Kenya is not for the faint hearted but when we go out there and represent the Nation and come back victorious, the feeling is unmatched.

Wambui: You were part of the squad that represented Kenya at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, what was that experience like?

Phila: The experience was unbelievable. Everything was top notch.

It was the epitome of professionalism in every aspect of the sport from the set up organization to the athlete themselves. You would have to experience it to understand it. The memories are unforgettable.

Fantastic is an understatement.

Olando closing in to support Grace Adhiambo during the 2019 Women’s Elgon Cup against hosts Uganda in Kampala

Wambui: How does it feel being a woman in a high profile sport?

Phila: It feels wonderful; I could not have asked for a better time than this.

We have our challenges in getting sponsorships and the game is still not played in school but the tide is slowly changing with more publicity, more drive to get more women participating in management and at the board level it’s surely a good feeling in general.

Wambui: What are some of the challenges women in sports encounter?

Phila: First: women in the African context are looked at in terms of their chores that they are supposed to perform at home, this limits them from participating as more time is taken by home activities.

Second: the game does not pay due to lack of sponsorship thus Women cannot depend on it to earn a living.

Third: is lack of facilities for women to train. washrooms and changing areas are not women friendly thus keeping them away.

Fourth: teenage pregnancy, early marriage and outdated traditional practices are a major challenge.

Fifth: Lack of inclusion of girls rugby in Kenya primary school’s sports association, Kenya Secondary Schools’ Sports Association and Kenya University Sports Association calendars.

Six: Media coverage when it comes to women sports hasn’t been as big as it is for the men, thus resulting in lack of information about women games to a larger audience who could be potential players.

Seven: Shortage of women role models for the girls to look upon and aspire to be like in rugby.

Lastly: There’s been a misconception that the sport is just for men but in the recent past, that narrative is slowly eroding.

Phila Olando scores for Kenya during the 24-12 loss to Canada at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia on Friday 13 April 2018/Photo/Getty Images

Wambui: We all know that COVID19 has hit sports hard. How has it affected you and how are you dealing with the situation?

Phila: Rugby is a team sport and not being able to train as a team has not been easy. There is no surety that other team members are training and thus no team cohesion.

I have been doing individual training. I am grateful to NOC-K for providing us with some training equipment to enable us keep fit. I have also taken it as a time to do rehabilitation of my body and to learn more about the game through online courses and video analysis.

Wambui: What lessons have you learnt from rugby?

Phila: That there are two sides to the journey of life, the good side and the bad side. When facing these sides, the core values of Rugby should always reign Supreme.

Wambui: Any word of advice you can give to young women interested in taking up sports?

Phila: Try, try and try again. If you fail, keep trying and working at it until you get it right.

*This interview was first published in the December 2020 edition of Game Live! accessible on this link https://www.kru.co.ke/magazine/magazine-december-2020/

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