AKZAM - A Known Zambian

“When you fall, fall on your back because if you can look up, you can get up”.

Suwilanji Mpondela

You’ve always pictured yourself as daring; climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, bungee jumping at the Victoria falls, learning to scuba dive or even being a professional athlete maybe. You’ve carried that vision with you for months or years possibly since you were a little kid yet you’ve kept deferring the dream. It’s never the right time or you’re too busy with “real” life, you lack motivation or resources but there is beauty in uncertainty, pursuing something so far outside the realm of your current reality can sometimes seem selfish and risky but in truth not acting on a life dream can also be detrimental to your health. Don’t put off living your dream until tomorrow because we are not guaranteed a tomorrow.

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”- Eleanor Roosevelt.

In this month’s article the fearless Suwilanji Mpondela who is currently studying economics and finance at the university of Lusaka enlightens us on her reasons for chasing her dreams and adds that while there is no guarantee of success or when you might arrive, you will never know what living your dream feels like unless you put your shoes on and get ready to start chasing them. If you don’t start a journey you can’t finish one. Start visualizing what the end of the finish line looks like and manifest the outcome.

What age were you when you joined athletics?

When i was 16 years old.

What made you decide to be an athlete?

I have always had an interest in sports . In school i was on almost every sports team (basketball, netball, football, volleyball, swimming , hockey, cross country to name a few…) but athletics stuck out for me probably because my dad is in the same field (as an administrator) so being around him definitely made me develop greater interest for track specifically. I love to tell the story about how I would race the dogs at the school my parents owned. I enjoyed beating them I guess that made me feel like I could do better.

Who is your favorite sports hero?

Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce

What is your favorite food to eat the night before a big competition ?

Penne pasta, chicken and mushroom in a creamy sauce. If I don’t have the

ingredients to make it, you’ll most definitely catch me driving to a restaurant to find it.

Tell us what have been your major highlights/achievements in athletics?

1) Within a year of being in athletics I qualified for the U18 world championships , I was the first athlete & girl to qualify for that competition in Zambia but also the first Zambian athlete to ever run the qualifying time for those (usually they’d go on wild card) 2017

2) Silver medal at the junior southern African championships in the 4x100m relay. I ran the last leg of the race .(2016)

3) Silver medal at the junior southern African championships in 2018 (100 meters). That ranked me 2nd in Southern Africa and was my first individual medal.

4) Held the naBonal record for 2 seasons for 100m youth

5) Made the senior 4x100m relay team for the senior African championships but unfortunately I couldn’t race with them because I got sick at the competition in 2018.

6) Qualified for the African junior championships and got to the finals in the

100m (ranked 5th in Africa) . First Zambian girl to ever reach the finals in that event in 2019

7) Competed at the junior world championships in 2018.

8) Silver medal at the region 5 games for the 4x100m relay in 2018.

Which 3 people inspire you the most?

My mum, my dad and my siblings . I know you said 3 people but my siblings (3) count as one Haha!. I can’t forget about my nephew and Godson Ocean who is my life and heart, you know sometimes I feel like giving up but then I remember that I always want to be a good example for him, he is my everything.

What one word describes you?

Fearless

What do you give up to play sports?

Time with friends and family , free time for myself and a regular student life. I actually had to take up distance school because of my hectic training schedule so I know I’m definitely missing out on that university life experience.

Do you think you inspire people and how?

I do think I inspire people I feel as though I try my best to show them that you can chase and follow your dreams even in an environment that looks down on your craft or doesn’t accommodate it but also that balancing school and your passion and excelling in both is very plausible .

What challenges did you come across in getting to where you are at today?

Getting used to high performance training (it’s really exhausting and draining), getting used to failure and understanding it’s a process , getting my parents to be on board from the very beginning because I definitely had to show them that I’m committed and disciplined and that school wouldn’t suffer, finding a balance with training and everything in life (school included) & dealing with critics (I would cry almost every day before) now It doesn’t phase me as much.

What drives you to get up in the morning and go for training?

Definitely seeing the goals I’ve set for myself , how far I’ve gotten and visualizing where I’m going but most importantly knowing that God doesn’t make mistakes and he blessed me with this talent for a reason. So the excitement of living in my purpose for sure .

What motivates you the most about your profession as an athlete?

It seems corny but I can’t wait to raise my country’s flag . To stand on the podium and hear the national anthem play knowing I brought glory to God , my country and my family. PS (I have a strange obsession for the national anthem) it’s just so powerful.

What is most important thing for you apart from sports?

Hmmmmm. I would say my family and business but also ministering , I love sharing the word of God. I feel my mode is different though. I always try to make it in a way people can relate more.

What are your strengths as both an athlete and person?

In a nutshell I’d say self awareness, my ability to analyze situations, environments I’m in, discipline and definitely commitment.

What are the three reasons you like being part of sport?

Firstly ,It helps me grow as a person , it’s really modeled my character . Secondly , it unites and breaks barriers that society tries to impose and finally its one of the ways I believe people can see the power of God . It’s in times when you’re in the trenches and people expect nothing good from you and then BOOM! God shows up. I think that’s pretty amazing.

What is your favorite sports quote?

Not sure if it’s a sports quote but I use it quiet a lot . “When you fall, fall on your back because if you can look up, you can get up”. Kind of just reminds me that it’s not always smooth sailing but just because you find a few bumps on the road doesn’t mean it’s all over.

What is your favorite song or type of music to listen to prior a competition or tough training?

Okay, soo I don’t have a favorite music genre . I absolutely love music so I listen to everything from kalindula — classical — rap- rock. Everything but I definitely make sure I listen to upbeat music before a race and during training i think what you feed your soul and the energy you surround yourself with is really important during those times. If I look at my race day playlist, I’ve noticed I have a lot of

South African house music / gqom. The drums excite me a lot. Haha

On the scale of 1–10 how confident are you in yourself?

I would say a 5 because I struggled with self esteem for a long time and I’m only now just getting myself together … sooo yea. I know that’s a limiting factor especially on my performance I tend to look down on myself quite a lot but I’m working on it though.

How does being an athlete make you a better person?

Through athletics I’ve been able to pick up many life skills like discipline, how to interact with people & learning how to be all rounded. In as much as I have athletics there’s many other things that life demands of us and life doesn’t just stop because you have races or training. I’d say discipline would be the most valuable one though. Oh, before I forget, it’s also made me a better person by teaching me how to be more self aware and in touch with myself . How to know myself , who I am, what I like, what I expect from life etc… I feel like knowing yourself is the best thing that could ever happen to you. It helps in every area of your life and allows for constant growth. You’re able to pick what you want around you and what you don’t. It’s also really helped me understand the value of family and keeping a good small circle . Definitely comes in handy because not every day is a sunny day. Most days are really overwhelming.

What is the one thing you always do after a good performance?

Haha I go and eat apart from that I have a bad tendency of looking down on my performances because I’m always trying to aim for upper echelon performances sometimes even more than what my skill level can allow me to achieve but I’ve learned that it’s a brick by brick process . So now I always make sure I celebrate the small wins. I love food . Definitely go out to eat usually at Nando’s.

If you could play another sport what would it be?

I think netball for sure …

If you could be anyone else apart from an athlete who would you be?

That’s not something I even think about . Probably a coach or sports administrator. Sports is amazing.

In Zambia doing sport (athletics) alone isn’t really a big thing like football for instance and also you being female, how hard is it for you being one of the few and what do you do to keep going?

I mean obviously sometimes it puts me off when I see the treatment the football team gets as opposed to what we as track athletes would get but I got to a point where I realized that this is my dream and my passion if people are on board , cool, if they’re not , cool. Doesn’t really bother me but of course it’s hard because I’m only human and I have feelings but I continue to keep my eyes on the prize and work towards what I want time will come when we will be acknowledged.

By Jeff Waziski Bwalya

Edited; Kantumoya Derrick Mpaka & Dalitso Kasonde

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