Why veterans find it difficult to retire despite their advanced age

Wednesday, April 29th, 2020 00:00 |
Boxer Maurice Okolla after winning an international fight in 2017. BELOW LEFT: Veteran volleyballer Janet Wanja, Kenya National during training. Photo/PD/DAVID NDOLO

The common adage ‘age is nothing but a number’ holds true for some dedicated athletes who have showed remarkable longevity to stay in their trade longer than expected.

Global stars such as tennis aces Serena Williams and Roger Federer, both 38, golf legend Tiger Woods (43), Formula One driver Kimi Raikonen (39) and NFL superstar Tom Brady (43) are still going strong despite their advanced years. 

Locally, Kenya Sevens captain Andrew Amonde had hinted at retiring after  the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which has been postponed to 2021, after what has been a busy and gruelling rugby career. 

Amonde, 36, who also captains multiple Kenya Cup winners KCB RFC, has done it all for club and country and believes the end is nigh.

Shining career

But while Amonde is preparing for retirement, others his age or even older are not letting go just yet. 

Volleyball queen Janet Wanja, 36, is one such athlete and believes the reason for her longevity is sacrifice. 

The Kenya Pipeline player, who also features for Malkia Strikers, says sacrifice is the reason she has achieved 80 percent of her goals in a shining career that has seen her win multiple medals for club and country for club and country. 

Veteran volleyballer Janet Wanja, Kenya National during training. Photo/PD/DAVID NDOLO

“It would not have been easy if I had not been disciplined and focused. The game is what has put me on the map and given me a job.

I have travelled the world, met friends and experienced the goodness of sport as a result of volleyball.

I have no regrets thus far because even my family is now taken care of because this game has appreciated me as an athlete.

I put in the work every day and I am not about to quit,” Wanja, who joined Kenya Pipeline straight from High School in 2005 told People Sport

Like Wanja, Kenya’s reigning national heavyweight boxing champion Morris Okola aka Maketho Maloso is also another veteran sportsman who is not about to give up.

“I have been in this business for 15 years. Boxing puts food on my table and takes care of my family not to mention it earned me employment with Kenya Police.

I have had to sweat it out to be one of the best on the continent through hard work and I still have the drive to continue because there is more to be achieved,” Okola, 36, told the People Sport

The story is the same for former Kenya hockey national team goalkeeper Brenda Wangila and Kenyan Premier League (KPL) journeyman Noah Abich.

Wangila, who plies her trade with Mombasa Sports Club, is still active at 39, playing and teaching the upcoming players.

“I love hockey and even if my body was to give up, it would still be in my blood. I play for my club but mostly coach and mentor the younger players.

It is fun and motivating honestly and it keeps me grounded in a way. I have captained my club for 10 years, played for the national team for two years because of my focus, competitive spirit and patience,” says Wangila, who has a Level 1 coaching course.

No let-up

Meanwhile Abich has spent 16 years of his life playing for seven KPL teams including Tusker FC, Mathare United and Sofapaka before landing at his current team Nairobi City Stars. 

At 34, there is still no let up for the dead ball specialist. “I have played for so long but I know I still have some years.

The game has made me disciplined and helped me invest in family. I work hard and all my past coaches can attest to that.

I have won several individual and team awards and that makes me proud of my career so far,” says Abich. 

So what keeps them going for this long? Sports psychologist Kanyali Ilako believes a number of issues make some of the veterans stay on.

“This is something they have been doing for ages and suddenly it wants to go away. It is not easy. They are human and have sentimental value plus attachment to what they do.

It is almost like denial because for them, the question is what next because almost likely for most there is no immediate Plan B.

Therefore it is a delicate balancing act that involves a lot of mental evaluation,” says Ilako.

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