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  • Writer's pictureFelix Munyika

SUWILANJI MPONDELA; Sprinter shares experience of training under COVID-19 restrictions (Q&A)

Suwilanji during training at National Heroes Stadium, Lusaka-Zambia.

The Coronavirus pandemic has called for a lot of drastic decisions that have had to be made, and with these decisions has come unwanted change and sudden implementations, not only in our lives, but in sport as well.

Athletes had been the most affected with the decisions in this period both mentally and physically as they have been faced with the risk of losing fitness and finding ways of how to go about their professional careers within the time of restrictions.

After Suwilanji Mpondela’s training session at National Heroes stadium, we managed to have a chat with her on how the restrictions impacted her training. In the conversation, we had the opportunity to understand how things were from her point of view as an athlete.

How has been training after restrictions due to COVID-19?

I basically had to adapt really quickly, because I already saw the progress that I made from training before COVID 19. So my mom made me like a graph track at the house. I had to improvise training equipment, make my own hurdles with pipes and stuff so that I could continue training. There’s been a lot of improvising, training on the hill, training on the road.

So you basically haven’t stopped?

No. I haven’t stopped, I’ve just been training, it’s just been a bit difficult because I’m not with my Coach, I can’t get any technical errors myself.

Mentally, how has that weighed on you?

I can definitely say it has affected me a lot because before COVID 19 I had made so much progress with my coach. Initially, when COVID 19 started, I didn't start training straight after. It took me about two and a half weeks before I finally got to mobilize everything, but I needed to be able to train alone. It's very frustrating because last year I was injured, but this year I was better, so it just kind of threw me off, but this year I was able to train then I couldn't. Not that there was anything wrong with me, but COVID 19.

What kind of injury did you have?

I had a back injury for the longest because your back supports everything, rehabilitating was harder than it should have been because you need your back for everything even sleeping.

So you juggle Sports, School and the Athletes Commission, isn't that a lot for you?

I can say it is,I can't say, draining, it gets difficult because sometimes... I remember the last meeting for the NOC board I had class, I had a zoom class. I've got a lot of conflicting schedules and each thing is important, so sometimes I'd have to let go of something for the school to do things for the commission, or let off something for the commission to do things for school, but one thing I never do is let go of things because it is my main priority. I'd like to think I'm an athlete first before anything else.

In terms of the Athletes Commission, how has it been handling the situation during this period?

It's definitely harder to get in contact with athletes. This has been a wakeup call for us to create a directory so that we can contact each other especially in moments like these. I did manage to speak to a few federations. The NOCZ President when he asked me to go deliver masks. It's definitely been hard for some athletes and obviously, as a commission especially with COVID 19, the situation is not in our control and the best we can do is check on athletes make sure they are keeping safe and make sure that they're keeping healthy because what's important is that they're able to come back and train when training does come back on have them a seat and have them recover.

With all of that you've found that they're some hurdles that need to be taken care of?

Yeah! No, definitely. I think especially that the Athletes Commission is still. I guess it's like a new thing, it's the first time being done and so it's a learning process like you never really know anything until it happens first hand like this, for example, this has given us a window to see where the gaps are and what we have to do.

Suwilanji stands as the first chairperson of the Athletes Commission for the National Olympic Committee of Zambia (NOCZ), a position she made history with by becoming the youngest ever to have to been elected to the position in Africa - owning this accomplishment at age 19.

That is in addition to the championship medals under her racing shoes.


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