NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 31 – Just another ordinary Saturday on October 26, 2019, Triza Atuka was flying high blocking all shots and striking all spikes for her club Kenya Pipeline at the Nandi leg of the Kenya Volleyball Federation league until misery struck.
Atuka collided with KCB’s Lorine Chebet and the aftermath of that collision was the tearing of her Anterior Cruciate Ligaments (ACL) which resulted into a surgery that would essentially see her miss up to nine months of action.
“It was terrible news to be honest. For any sportsperson, injury is a nightmare. I was at the top of my game, looking forward to the play-offs in a months’ time, the Olympic qualifiers and the tournament itself. All this was brought down in the flip of a minute,” Atuka recounted.
But what followed was the building of one of the strongest ever mentalities for the 27-year old, one that was birthed out of difficulty and one that would take her through six months of rest and recovery with a confident eye at the future.
“When you are in that situation, the best thing you can do to yourself is be positive. You cannot start feeling sorry for yourself and engage in wishful thinking. That will only make it worse for you. You’ve got to embrace the situation, accept it and work towards your recovery,” the soft-spoken middle blocker stated.
She says it was a tough period for her, but with an able support system of friends, family and her club Kenya Pipeline, she managed to go through the toughest periods of all that included surgery and the first few months of recovery.
“I am really thankful because of my club. We have a very good medical cover and it is easier for you when you don’t have to worry about how you will finance your hospital bills. Mentally, you are at a better place because you just need to worry about your recovery,” she states.
Five months since she had surgery on her ACL, Atuka says she now feels okay and is ready to get back to action on the courts, once the coronavirus pandemic wears out.
“I have been doing lots of physiotherapy to work on the strength and conditioning and I feel okay. I look forward to getting back on the field and work on my fitness to get to playing form,” she notes.
And just like a lucky bird, her dream of making it into a maiden Olympic has been revived with the games now moved to July 2021. Had they gone on this year, she would definitely have been out but now she looks at it as a second chance.
-Missing the Olympics
“We missed the Olympics in 2016 when we lost to Cameroon in the qualifiers. We really cried that day. All of us. No one was consolable because we felt that we played so well but were not lucky to win. I was heartbroken,” narrates Atuka.
“I had looked forward to this year’s qualifiers and then unluckily again, I could not make it because of injury. It was really sad because that meant I have to wait for another four years and with sport, you are never assured that you will be on top every year,”
“Now I have a second chance. I look forward to getting back to the field and working hard to get on form. I know it will not be easy to get back to the team because there are others who are replaced me when I was out but I will give it my best shot,” Atuka said.
Atuka’s injury pain was compounded by not only missing the Olympics, but being out of her team as they failed to successfully vie for the national title at the play-offs in November.
This was the second consecutive time she missed out. In 2018, she missed the play-offs as she was recovering from stomach surgery. Coincidentally in both those two occasions she missed out, Pipeline lost.
More painful was the fact that Pipeline had been champions since she joined them in 2013. They won four straight titles with Atuka playing a central role, literally.
-Pipeline getting back on top
And with the oilers dislodged twice in a row by arch-rivals Prisons, Atuka believes they can still get their place back on top despite the fact that most of the senior players have been poached by the money-dangling KCB.
“I believe we have what it takes because the team is now rebuilding. I had been in training several times before the virus just checking on them and giving them moral support and from what I see, the future is bright. There are young players who have come from school and in the near future, the team will be back on top. Mark my words,” the confident star stated.
The Mukumu Girls High School alumnus was herself approached by the bankers, dangling a fat paycheck and a deal that would turn anyone’s head.
But she has now exclusively disclosed to Capital Sport that she rejected the deal at first sight and decided to stick to the oilers, even when most of her teammates, including coach Japheth Munala jumped ship to wade into KCB waters.
“Yes, they did approach me with a very good deal but for me, loyalty tops anything else. At that time, I had just returned to playing from surgery and Pipeline took great care of me. How would it have looked on my part had I decided to leave? It would have been thankless of me,”
“At the same time, most of the players had left. I would have felt bad to leave the team at that state, knowing I was leaving it at a bad place. When I joined Pipeline from KCB in 2013, I found the team at the top and it has always been my ambition to also leave it at the top,” Atuka disclosed.
-Pipeline is my home
She further adds that Pipeline has given her a life and a career in volleyball which has propelled her all the way to the national team where she has also been an assistant captain.
She joined Pipeline in 2013 after two years at KCB, having moved to the big city after her talents were spotted at Mukumu Girls where she horned her skills.
Her national team debut was in 2015 and since then, it has been a story of happily ever after.
“I have had some of the biggest moments in my career at Pipeline and Malkia Strikers. We went all the way to the finals of the African Club Championship with Pipeline, won group three of the Grand Prix as well as winning the African Cup title several times. I am looking forward for more and working hard to achieve even bigger things,” Atuka, named the 2017 best blocker at the African showpiece stated.
Her immediate focus though is getting back to playing, help Pipeline regain their foothold as a national and continental giant and in the short term, play at her first ever Olympics.