Onyala: From slums to global rugby arena

Tuesday, October 6th, 2020 00:00 |

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  by Charles Thuku and Kelvin Kimathi

 Kenya Sevens rugby star Vincent Onyala Owino can aptly be described as a player who has defied odds to attain success.

Onyala, who is a KCB player, was raised in Nairobi’s Mathare neighborhood which is known as a hotbed of crime and other social vices.

Yet Onyala, who was diagnosed with arthritis at a tender age, has punched above his weight in the rugby scene and endeared himself to many.

After five months of no action due to  an injury, Onyala is back and pundits have already tipped him as the next big thing in Kenyan rugby circles.

Incidentally, Onyala ventured into rugby by chance after his residence was targeted for a beneficiary tournament.

“I remember it was 2007 when a tournament was held targeting kids in the slums and was picked as one of the participants since I knew what rugby entails, ” said Onyala.

He adds: “I remember it was my friend Johnstone Olindi and I who were among the beneficiaries and that’s where my rugby journey began.”

Back to arthritis which afflicted him while still in primary school, Onyala described the experience as one he would wish to forget in a hurry while expressing gratitude for a foreign expert at Ruaraka Neema Uhai Hospital in Kasarani for his full recovery.

‘’I was literally in pain and my knees were swollen and I couldn’t walk which meant that I could not go to school.

My parents were very helpful and took me to the medical institution for treatment where I met a Dr Moreno who did a good procedure and then I was declared arthritis-free,” says Onyala.

Before his full recovery, Onyala would cry his heart out whenever he went to the field and found his peers learning the basics of the game.

“I would go to the field every Sunday and watch the kids honing their skills while hoping that I would one day join them,” he says.

After recovering , Onyala would then gain the opportunity to join the game but eat well contrary to what he used to partake in the harsh environment of Mathare, thanks to the slum kids’ programme.

“I used to play and at the same time enjoy a sumptuous meal of rice and beef and a banana to go with it.

That was a complete change since our family initially had a real challenge to put a decent meal on the table.”  

Onyala made his maiden appearance internationally when he paraded for Kenya Sevens team at the second leg of 2018/19 HSBC Sevens World Series in Capetown, South Africa, where he scored four tries.

“I played my game and did not expect what I did and I kept working hard and I guess that is what has enabled me to reach where I am,” he says.

In the local scene, Onyala has played a pivotal role in steering KCB to the top of the standings after cup title successes in Dala (Kisumu) and Kakamega Sevens where he was declared not only the most valuable player in both tournaments but also the top try  and point scorer.

He also remembers when he picked an injury in 2018 but bravely kept on playing using a plan B.

“Initially, I had taken a break and did not take part in any 15s event but the desire to continue playing was burning. 

Later in the year, I realised I only need a strap to continue playing. I told myself that I can’t be idle as it was like mental torture,” says Onyala.

It was then that Onyala was spotted by the national team scouts and was later incorporated him into the squad after full recovery.

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