NAIROBI, Kenya, May 8 – Arriving at a new country, signing for a new team with massive hope that your career is just about to take a flight 60,000 feet above sea level, then boom! Out of the blues a sweeping hurricane brings all that to a halt.
The mental torture it puts you through, the what ifs and the thought of what would have been offer a massive psychological challenge to a sportsperson.
But through it all, Kenya Morans power forward Ariel Okall has chosen to look at the positive effect of the sweeping effect the COVID-19 pandemic has had on sports all over the world. He believes the period has made him stronger mentally.
Okal, nicknamed ‘The Doctor’ by his fans and friends, moved to Algeria in January to sign for top tier side Union Sportive Setifienne (USS) but just four games into his new adventure, the sweeping effects of the virus shut down sports.
“It has been a difficult spell to be honest. Being at a new country, a new city then all of what you had planned to do is cut out becomes very hard. I was the only foreigner in the team and definitely, it has been tough. While playing at least you’d spend most of your days practicing and preparing for matches, but now we have to stay in the house,” Okal told Capital Sport from his base in Algiers.
“Prior to this week, I had not left the house since around March 7 when the lockdowns started and the club had been sending me food throughout and checking on me. The President and the coach have come to visit several times. It felt like solitary jail,” the power forward added.
Last week, Algeria, which was one of the African countries hardly hit by the pandemic, announced that it had eased down its lockdown measures, partly opening up the capital to its residents.
“At least now people can walk out, go jogging but only a short distance, and it feels better. At least I have left the house twice to go to the supermarket and it is a huge sigh of relief,” Okal says.
But he looks back at the tough period of staying indoors and limited time interacting with friends and family.
“I think it has made me stronger mentally. Dealing with hard times is a test for everyone. Also, I tend to look at the positive side of things. This period has given me more time to reflect and plan and look at my life as a professional and what I want for the future,” states the former Kenya Ports Authority man.
His contract with USS ends in July and he has not yet initiated talks for an extension especially now that there is uncertainty as to when the league will resume.
He says there has been a talk of return to training from May 15, but nothing concrete at the moment. Even as he waits on the way forward for the league and a return to training, Okal is keeping fit at his residence in Algeirs by training indorrs.
He has also found new friends at this time of the Holy month of Ramadhan and admits he has never cooked since it began.
“I have very good neighbors and every day they bring me a lot of food. I no longer cook and it is just great having people who are so kind. The embassy has also been checking out on me most of the times and they gave me contacts of some students here in Algiers and after this lockdown is over, I will link up with them, some who play basketball and enjoy a session with them,” noted the national team star.