Janet Okello: My rugby, my future
As the Kenya Lionesses sailed through to the Commonwealth games set for 2018 in Australia, Janet Okello arguably played a ‘backbone of the team role’, shy but composed fine gem in the squad.
During the qualifiers, Okello scored a hat-trick against Senegal in their second match and bagged two in the win over Tunisia that sent them to the Gold Coast competition.
Locally, she won the player of the Month for September by the Sports Journalists Association of Kenya where she walked away with a 42-inch digital TV from Star times, Ksh100, 000 cash prize and a personalized trophy.
The sensational winger’s exploits with the Kenya Sevens Women national team won her the award, underscoring her fine form this season.
Albeit her youthfulness, Okello beat 2016 marathon Olympic Champion Eliud Kipchoge and teammate Sinaida Aura to the award, underscoring the stellar season she had.
Meet the 25-year old former Butere Girls alumnus, who turned a glowing chapter in her life, standing out in the Commonwealth campaign tournament.
“I joined the junior set-up of Mwamba RFC while I was still a young girl, playing in the mixed set up with boys.
“However, girls have to stop playing with boys at a certain age. I played up until that point, but I was too young to join the women’s team straightaway,” Okello told Citizen Digital.
Okello revealed how she used to read on newspapers wishing to penetrate the national team, and board a plane for international assignments.
By then, she was running as a hobby in the 100 and 200 sprints and it’s clearly vindicated in her speed and composure in her style.
“By the time I got to 18, I used to train alongside men sometimes, obviously just playing touch rules. As soon as we started talking through match scenarios, I got chased away after beating up boys,” added the Collins Injera inspired player.
However being chased away would be part of her journey towards success and soon after her ‘O’ levels, Okello would be chased away by her aunt in Nairobi and had nowhere to go, but was never deterred.
At only 20 in 2012 she scored a memorable try against rivals South Africa on her debut. She would later on represent the Lionesses at the Dubai Sevens.
Okello offers, the sport has shaped her life in a direction few could imagine at her tender age.
“Rugby has taught me leadership skills, how to be a strong, confident and independent woman and a team worker. It has taught me to embrace being a physical player and not shy away from contact.
“I credit the sport with lifelong lessons which I have successfully applied in my career and personal life. Through the game I have found some of the closest friends that still remain with me years later, and from all parts of the world,” Okello added.
She opines players have a role in sanitizing the sport, where it has been mistaken as a ‘game for the rough”.
“The culture surrounding rugby is social, supportive and fun; and I want to share that experience and I want to dismiss the old conception that rugby is a hooligan’s game played by gentleman. Instead, I want to be part of redefining the sport as an elegant game played by women,” she explained.
Among the players who have so far impacted hugely in her journey, Okello singles out Philadelphia Olando ‘who took her as a sister’ and natured her to stardom.
“Playing for the national team helps me so much. It sounds funny to say now, but I didn’t know that much about rugby. Phila (Olando) taught me and instilled confidence in what I do today.
“She made me understand rugby is one of the few sports where the rules are the same for men and women. It builds confidence and independence, a female comradeship where strong personalities are respected and physical prowess is admired,” averred the commonwealth bound player.
Okello’s goal is to give back to the society and celebrate the female athletes who have the passion and drive to compete in physical games while balancing work and life.
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