“This is a story that I always do not like talking about. It takes me back to a dark time and I always feel like crying.” Christine Ongare says, before taking a long pause as she struggles to balance tears in her welling eyes.
Ultimately, the walls cave in and tears flow freely as she reminisces a chapter in her life that nearly swept her away.
At the tender age of 12, even before she could hit teenage years, the last born in a family of four fell pregnant. For her, it looked like the end of the world and her mum suddenly became the laughing stalk of the neighbourhood.
“Falling pregnant was a huge challenge. My mum became the laughing stock in the society and we didn’t have peace,” Ongare says in an interview with Capital Sports as tears freely flow down her cheeks.
“It was very tough for me and I thought my life had come to an end. I just told my mum that I didn’t want to stay in Nairobi and when I accepted to go back to school, she said she would remain with the baby and bring her up. I told her to take me upcountry,” added the pint-sized, sharp stinging boxer.
-Fell into bad company
Growing up in the harsh neighbourhood of Kariobangi, falling into bad company was as easy as sand flowing through the hour glass.
She was the victim of a bad experiment, one that brought with it irreversible consequences.
But as strong willed as ever, Ongare was not ready to let one wrong turn in a single day knock her out in life. She went back to the village in Khwisero, Western Kenya, completed her education and came back to Nairobi with a heart determined to make the best out of her life.
“After finishing school, I came back stronger. I didn’t care what people would say. Falling pregnant made it seem like I had failed in life but as long as I decided to accept what had happened and rise up, it was okay for me.”
“I came back stronger and battle hardened. Up to today, I face the same challenges. But I don’t quarrel with anyone. I just cry and tell myself that I am better now. That is life and I cannot change the past,” the 27-year old-states.
She adds; “This journey has been tough. Not just from around the community but within boxing as well. When I came back, I decided to get saved and I have a very good pastor who has been like a father to me. I have been raised by a single mother, the same one who has raised my baby and he has been the father figure in my life.”
-Sometimes I want to give up
“Sometimes it is like you want to give up but I always remember when God took the children of Israel from Egypt to the promised land. It is the same for me. God has not brought me here to leave me. People’s words will never derail me. I just focus and work hard on what I want”
And Ongare has proved just how resilient she is with her boxing career up on the trajectory over the past two years. Her small demeanour in the ring, her bubbly smile and playful nature would never betray her attitude in the ring.
In 2018, she became the first Kenyan woman to win a medal at the Commonwealth Games when she clinched bronze in Gold Coast, Australia. This was also Kenya’s only medal in boxing at the games.
Two years later, she has qualified for the Olympics for the first time ever, and she wants to use the hardship she grew up with to propel her to a medal in Tokyo in 2021.
“I was extremely delighted. Every player or athlete always dreams to be at the Olympics because that is the highest stage of sports. I was expecting to qualify for Rio 2016 but it didn’t happen. This time, when the draw came out in Senegal, to be honest I was really scared,”
“In Kenya, we are used to playing a league format but at the qualifiers, I had to start all the way from the preliminaries. It gave me a lot of tension but thanks to God I managed to calm down and I was even surprised that I had too much strength to fight till the last moment. It was the first time ever in my career that I was playing four games in a row,” she states.
For Ongare, an Olympic ticket was a dream come true and a vision planted in her eight years ago by her mentor Elizabeth Andiego. In 2012, on her way to the London Olympics, Andiego called Ongare and asked her to come say goodbye as they left for the airport.
In that moment, Andiego handed her a Kenyan flag and told her one day, she would take the same journey as well.
“This meant a lot for me and it was like a vision that I picked. In life, if you want to achieve something, you need to dream it, believe and put into action. She gave me the confidence that I can do it. Missing the ticket in 2016 was of course sad, but it pushed me to work harder knowing that one day, I would achieve the target,” explains Ongare.
-So many people have helped me
“So many people have helped me along the way. From Elizabeth to my coaches like Musa (Benjamin) David (Munuhe) and many other boxers, some of who I don’t even remember. They have really helped me get here. Some who are not even my weight would come and help me spur and that meant a lot,”
“Elizabeth was always there for me and she always encouraged me never to give up because she saw that I had something in me. There are times when things just happen in the ring and outside and you want to throw in the towel. But through their help, I have managed to remain strong.”
And now, her dream is to replicate her historic feat from the Commonwealth Games in Australia to Tokyo next year.
“I want to become the first woman to bring an Olympic medal to Kenya,” a confident Ongare says, with a smile of assurance radiating through her face.
-Boxing has given her a life
For Ongare, boxing has given her the solace she always wanted and the comfort of knowing that she can be a better person.
As she fought off the stigma that came with getting pregnant at 12, Ongare had to look for something to make her mind calm. Being a sportsperson from a young age, she had to look the way of a game.
She had started out as a footballer, but when she fell pregnant, that career didn’t take off. Coming back to Nairobi, she tried out acrobatics, another sporty venture that she loved, but still, she didn’t go through with it.
“When I came back, I tried acrobatics, but I couldn’t make the team because I was told the set had already been filled. The coach told me that despite missing space in acrobatics, I could try boxing. That’s how I started and my first competition outside the country was in 2012, at the World Women Championship,”
“I was blacked-out in my first game and I almost gave up. But I encouraged myself that giving up would only return me to a dark time and I had to work extra hard to get to be among the best,” Ongare explains.
She started out at Box Girls, before switching to a club in her Kariobangi neighbourhood where she has been working with coach Musa since then.
-Coach Musa full of praise
“She is a very resilient boxer. She has gone through a lot in life and to see her get to where she is today is truly amazing. For many, they would have thrown in the towel as we say in boxing. But she kept on fighting, and now the fruits are visible after qualifying for the Olympics,” coach Musa tells Capital Sport.
“I am very confident in her heading to Tokyo. I know that she will be at the podium.” He adds.
Ongare says boxing has helped put her life in order and she has slowly moved from being the laughing stock in the community to being the shining light of her family.
“Boxing has played a huge role in making my life better. It withdraws you from bad company and the second thing, it gives you company. When you leave home and get to the hall, you laugh with people, you mingle with so many different characters and forget your problems. You just do your day with people who make you happy,”
“Even in terms of putting my life together it has really helped me. When we go for those big championships, the coaches always advise us on how to use the income we get because we know that the money we get from sports isn’t guaranteed every day. They have taught us how to invest so that in future, you don’t turn out to be helpless,” she explains.
Read the full story on Capital Sports here.