“A Mother’s Love For The Game”

The greatest gift of all is that of motherhood. It is the genesis of life and love and indeed a beautiful thing. Motherhood, however, comes with numerous challenges, especially for sportswomen. Natalie Akinyi Mwangale aka Natty is one of this country’s basketball mom’s. As a bonafide superstar in the Kenya Basketball Federation League she is faced with the tough responsibility of balancing a career, basketball and being a mother. She was recently blessed with a baby girl by the name Zara, whom she describes with two simple words: a jewel and a gift from God. Natty is by far one of the toughest and strongest point guards in kenya. It comes as no surprise that she was able to play the game for the first five months of the pregnancy. Her love for the game just could not let her sit out. Natalie is from Kitale, Trans Nzoia county and also from a sports-oriented family. Her father is a retired football player turned coach while her mom is a former netball player and an international netball referee.

Natalie in action against Nigeria at the 3×3 Africa cup Kampala,
Photo courtesy: FIBA

Natty is a product of Bulimbo girls high school and later The Technical university of Kenya where she graduated with a diploma in sales and marketing. Her hard work landed her a job at the Postal cooperation of kenya. In her basketball career, she has played for a number of teams: shortly for western delights, a couple of seasons for Eagle wings former league champions and a basketball powerhouse and lastly Kenya Ports Authority where she has enjoyed so much success. Natty is arguably the face of that franchise at the moment. She has won the Premier League Basketball title with both Eagle Wings and KPA with three FIBA Zone 5 titles sitting comfortably in her silverware cabinet. Natty has also participated in a couple of FIBA continental tournaments. In 2013 she was part of the Eagle Wings squad that bagged a bronze medal in Meknes, Morocco at the FIBAACCW. She has also won several awards on and off the court due to her outstanding performance in basketball;

• 2013 MMA best upcoming basketball player of the year

• 2015 MMA basketball player of the year

• 2017 FIBA Zone 5 Best point guard

• 2017 FIBA Zone 5 MVP

• 2017 MMA Basketball player of the year

• 2019 FIBA 3×3 African Cup shootout winner.

Natalie took a time out and shared her story with th3doctors report this is what she had to say;

1: how did you end up playing for Eagle Wings Basketball club?

“I wanted to join the Kenya Defense Forces in order to play for the Ulinzi Blades in 2013 but I didn’t  make the cut. Ulinzi were playing Nairobi Basketball Association League and here I met Kedogo Everline who convinced me to join Eagle  Wings, which I did. I had no idea I was joining a team that had won the Premier League championship. I was a rookie who just wanted to play basketball nothing else”

2: What about Kenya Ports Authority? 

“KPA had wanted to recruit me since 2013 even before I joined Eagle Wings but I asked them to wait till the following year because I was finishing my studies later in September. In 2014 i called Coach Anthony Ojukwu to ask if they still had a spot in their roster for me, and that is how I wound up relocating to the coastal city of Mombasa”

3: How would you describe working with the late coach Smarts and the huge role in shaping your career early on?

“As a rookie, he did almost everything possible to improve my game. We trained for two hours before the team training. He gave me free-throw target every day, drills to improve my ball handling and helped me work on my jump shot. I am always thankful and honored to have been coached by him. May his soul rest in peace”

4: There has been a huge change in your game, what are some of the things you did differently and what did you learn from your time at eagle wings?

“I listened to what my coach and other players told me. I worked on my 3 point shot which I had been struggling with. I perfected my layups and passes and now that allows me to play with any player on the court. I learnt as a point guard to always make my own decisions on the court and make my teammates look good”

5: What motivates you to be who you are and to perform at such a high level? What is it that drives you?

“I’am a bad loser and that’s what motivates me everytime am on the court. I also encourage my teammates to do their best because i know what they bring to the table and I love to win”

6: Eagle wings had so much success, what held the team together and pushed you ladies to your best?

“We treated each other as sisters and as a basketball family. The encouragement I got from them motivated me give my all on the floor. I always want to be at my best in each game as I said am a bad loser, I always want to win that pushes me to be at my best”

7: Lets talk about you as a basketball mom. You recently had baby Zara. Could you describe that feeling of motherhood ?

“It is a blessing. So many things in my life have changed. Zara has become my number one priority and its a joy to me when she is comfortable and happy. Being a mother comes with lots of responsibilities and one requires a good support system and I’am grateful that I’am getting that from my family”

Natalie and her daughter Zara.Photo courtesy: Natalie

8: How do you balancethe three; basketball, motherhood and you work?

“I have a great support system in my family, my boss, my teammates and my friends. who have been there to help me juggle the three although it‘s not been easy. It’s very challenging”

9: You played basketball while pregnant, how scary is that?

“Its had its dangers but I love the game so I had to be extremely careful. Most people don’t know this, but exercise is also good for a pregnant woman”

10: There’s a certain stigma towards women who become mothers. Did you experience any of that?

“The stigma is there especially because people think the moment you become a mom your sports career is over and done with. Personally I want to agree with the words of the famous singer Beyonce, that we are stron enough to bear children and get back to business”

11: How was the recovery process from maternity and how did you make such a speedy comeback?

“This was probably the hardest part of my career but thanks to my mom and my sister for the overwhelming support. They helped me alot in terms of gaining back my fitness and Shedding the weight. I stuck to a daily workout schedule every morning and evening for 7straight months. My diet changed I had to get rid of sugary foods and wheat. Coach Abel Nson also insisted that I work on my game while on leave so I did a lot of shooting. This worked well for me when I came back to play and especially against his team. I am still working to be at my level best. In this country people may think giving birth is the end of one’s career and I’d love nothing more than to prove them wrong”

12: What can you tell fellow basketball players who have gone through motherhood and may be scared of coming back and not know what to do to get back in shape?

“Motherhood is part of our lives as women, embrace it. No one should discourage anyone from playing just because they have given birth. Having an organized schedule is key to finding time to play basketball. Workouts are important so either do runs or go to the gym or do both. Maintain a healthy diet and try to keep your weight In check. Add something new to your skillset and your comeback will definitely surprise many”

13: Is there anything we need to do differently in women basketball to improve the levels of the game in the country?

“Yes, we need to improve on a number of things such as setting up structures that will benefit the girl child. Our levels of playing have dipped a little. We were dominant in East Africa and now we are really struggling even against teams we used to beat”

14: Is the future bright for women’s basketball?

“Yes the future is very bright because we have amazing talent. Women in Kenya can play good basketball but they don’t want to take this sport with the seriousness it deserves. I wish they did”

15: You’re an inspiration to many players across all genders, say something to them?

“Never give up on what you are passionate about and the targets you set for yourself. Work hard towards them and you will reach them”

16: If you had one wish to change kenyan basketball what will you wish for?

“I’d want the Kenya Basketball Federation to get more sponsors and also hype the game enough to reach more fans. I would also want the Morans and lionesses to be train regularly and play more friendly games prior to any tournament. This would go along way in helping both get back to where we were and bring back the glory to Kenyan basketball”

High five parade, Natalie (6) with her teammates showcasing good sportsmanship
Photo courtesy: FIBA
From left, Taudencia Peter, Natalie Akinyi, Melissa Akinyi and Christine Akinyi at the FIBA 3×3 Africa Cup in Kampala.
Photo courtesy: FIBA
Natalie on the attack against APR at the FIBA Zone 5 Club Championship in Dar es salaam Tanzania
Photo courtesy: FIBA

The beauty of motherhood is the ability to create, nurture and give the world a better version of yourself. Despite all the challenges women face in their daily life, they possess a different kind of strength, a power to take on these challenges and still afford a smile. Natalie Akinyi is a true definition of the woman of today; balancing a job, a basketball career and raising a daughter. In a society and a sport dominated by men, it has always been difficult for women to stand out. If you find one who can walk with her head held high and hold her own just like Natalie, then that right there is a true queen. As she prepares for the new season with KPA, fans all over are hoping to see Natalie make a massive comeback on that Lioness roster Her expertise and experience is definitely needed. Natalie Akinyi has the strength of a woman.

By Ariel Okall


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