-Life journey of the 2018 Sports Personality Of The Year Living With Disability
When polio paralysed her left leg at the age of five, Jane Ndenga’s life changed dramatically. With 12 operations failing to help, stigma and trauma became part of her life.
The 2018 Sports Personality Of The Year Living With Disability has represented Kenya in the Wheelchair Tennis World Cup for three years: 2014, 2017 and 2018.
“It took a lot of work to be where I am mentally and physically. I just thank God for enabling me to accept myself and be able to pursue my career in tennis,” she says.
Born and raised in Siaya, Jane is the second born in a family of five. She is a staunch believer who likes to fast ahead of crucial matches.
Jane, who schooled in the ordinary Kenyan schools, thanks her parents for snubbing special schools to ensure she got along with everyone, though discrimination was inevitable.
“It was not easy in high school; I was excluded in so many things and didn't feel needed because students and teachers thought I was only good for watching over their bags during PE. I was stressed but managed to perform well and proceed to college,” she said.
The Kenyan top seed passed with credit in college, where she pursued public relations, community counseling and international business communication.
Jane, who ventured into tennis in 2012, admits to having a rough journey in the sport. “I'd like to train everyday but I can't because the resources are limited. We train without lunch and are often alone because we don't have a permanent coach. Many players that we started with quit along the way but I didn't give up. I push myself each day.”
The top seed's breakthrough came in 2018, when she was elected by the International Tennis Federation and won the Kenyan award for Sports Personality of the Year award.
“I had been nominated thrice for SOYA awards but never won it until last year. It was really overwhelming to get to the ITF Council as the African representative, a post that gave me a chance to persuade more disabled people to play wheelchair tennis.”
Jane, whose two-year term in the council expires in 2020, has helped African teams get grants to support them in training and participate in external tournaments. She is a living example that disability is not inability.
Thanking her family for continued support, Jane believes consistency is key to success. “My family believes in my tennis. In fact, they started calling me 'superstar' even before I won my first match. They will make sure I get to the court even when I'm broke,” she said.
Apart from tennis, Jane has played professional wheelchair basketball and represented Kenya in the Africa championships in South Africa in 2017. She also engaged in power lifting and sitting volleyball, where she was appointed secretary general of the federation from 2012-16.