Luchivya: From nasty accident to top basketball player

It was a tough life for budding young talent.

In Summary

•The accident happened in November 1999 around Voi as Barclays Bank Eaglets team travelled back to the city after a Premier League clash against Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) in Mombasa

•Luchivya, then only 20 years, spend two months in hospital and upon being discharged recuperated at home for one and a half years moving around on crutches. 

Angela Luchivya during a past training session
Angela Luchivya during a past training session
Image: FILE

Nearly 21 years after Angela Luchivya suffered a horrific road accident that claimed the lives of her coach and five of her teammates, she is gearing up for another rigorous basketball season.

The accident happened in November 1999 around Voi as Barclays Bank Eaglets team travelled back to the city after a Premier League clash against Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) in Mombasa. The tragedy kept her out of action for over two years.

The news hit the nation like a thunderbolt and plunged the game into mourning. When it happened, Morris Aluanga had just started his tenure as the Kenya Basketball Federation (KBF) chairman and the only job on the card then was coordinating church service and making burial plans.

Luchivya, then only 20 years, spend two months in hospital and upon being discharged recuperated at home for one and a half years moving around on crutches. It was a tough life for budding young talent.

After recovering from her injuries over time, she got back into doing what she loves doing best—playing hoops. And it has been that way since. With this year’s activities delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, she is training hard ready for another year ahead.

When I called her for this interview, she was on the road and asked me to call later. When I finally did, she had just come back to the house after minutes of workouts on her own. The engine that drives Storms is ready to give her best to the team one more time.

“I have never started training early for the league,” she revealed adding: “But this time, I started working on my fitness level early. I want to be productive to the team again. I am determined to be fitter,” she said even before I even told her why I was actually calling.

‘Angie’ as she is fondly known in the basketball circles, still has insatiable desire to win a match even if it means diving on broken glass or jostling for position inside the ‘D’ against taller and bigger opponents. the ‘hard as steel’ Luchivya, who at one point even made it to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, has no plans to retire just yet.

With just a few months to her 41st birthday, Luchivya remains one of the toughest players in the league. Whether jumping up there for a big rebound, driving in for a winning basket or just guarding the most dangerous opposing player— she is always ready whenever called upon.

But why has Luchivya been around for this long, unlike others? She attributes her many years on the courts to focus, work ethics, discipline, determination and never say die attitude.

“I believe I can still do better and therefore I push myself to the limit with an open mind to learn more and more,” she says adding: “The time to call it a day will surely come someday.”

Her coach Abel Nson, who started working with Storms three years ago, admits that the indefatigable Luchivya is still very much part of his plans to shake the scene and wrestle the league title from Equity Bank this year.

He says her leadership style is great. “She leaves the team to operate freely while using her own resources to push them forward.”

“As a coach, she has made things clear and allowed me to manage the team. She is a great leader who empowers her players. This helps the players feel dedicated to her. She is my biggest fighter yet my oldest,” Nson observed.

Angela was born in 1979 in Nairobi to the late Beneah Luchivya and Leah Luchivya. She is the last born and the only daughter and has three brothers the late Neil, Kevin and Patrick Luchivya. Her father passed on one month before she was born.

Her mum took her to Hill School Primary boarding in Eldoret at a tender age of six years and it was here that her sporting prowess was manifested. Here, she was an all-rounder and was involved in athletics, swimming, netball, tennis, basketball and rounders.

When she joined Alliance Girls High in 1994, she was much into swimming as she opted to follow into the footsteps of her brother Neil, a star member of Kenya team in 4th All Africa Games in Nairobi in 1987.

His other brother Patrick also lured her towards his favourite sport— tennis before things changed when Neil’s friend, Robert Mwangi came to Alliance on teaching practice and wondered why she was not playing basketball.

He told me: “You are very athletic, why don’t you try a sport like basketball?” Luchivya recalls. “Because tennis had many players and the swimming pool was always full, I heeded his call and I have no regrets moving over.”

Mwangi, a former StanChart and Post-Bank forward, now a teacher at Brookhouse reflects back:

“Angela was in Form One and gifted in different sports. Her passion, leadership and discipline made her a good choice for the basketball team.”

“She was also decisive and executed efficiently. It has been a joy watching her grow to become what she is today. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to be part of her amazing story,” he noted.

After her ‘O’ levels, she joined the University of Nairobi in 1999 after a two-year wait over and graduated in 2003. During that time, the varsity team “Dynamites” did not play in the league featuring only in tournaments and institutional games.

Her first clubs were Eastleigh-based Kenya Christian Industrial Training Institute (KCITI) and Eaglets which kept her busy as she waited to join campus. The engagements helped develop her as a complete player.

Emilly Ongoro, who missed the ill-fated crash because she had a sour back and opted to travel by bus instead, said many girls join club basketball after school but face many challenges with only a small percentage pulling through.

“Angela joined the team straight from school. Being young, her challenge was convincing her family that she was in basketball for the long haul and can take care of herself. In the midst of all this, was also balancing her college education,” Ongoro said.

She added: “After the accident, her mother then an active golfer and his brothers gave their blessings allowing her back to basketball again.”

“Her experience is immense with no signs of slowing down yet after all this time. She is a dependable player in the Premier League— long after her peers have since stopped playing altogether,” she notes.

Equity Bank tactician and former Kenya Rugby Union CEO Sylvia ‘Sly’ Kamau, her former team-mate at Eaglets and who also survived that tragedy, has had many memorable battles with Luchivya while playing for Strathmore University “Swords”.

“Luchivya is hardworking, posses a purely positive work ethic and is a worthy ally in a battle. She is self-driven, focused and competitive. She will not allow her age or nerve derail her from achieving what she has set focus on,” she added.

At a young age, she took the captainship of the team and she has not let them down two decades later as she continues to deliver,” Kamau revealed.

“A rare accomplishment. Pure zeal and grit describe ‘Angie’. She has grown immensely professionally and continues to be a positive mentor for the upcoming girl child. She has purely won all her stripes through sheer hard work and commitment.”

Coach Ben Oluoch, now based in Kigali with Rwandese giants Patriots, saw Luchivya as an upcoming college girl until she transformed to an uncompromising star years later.

“I met her in 1987 while playing for Eagles. I would coach Eaglets part-time. She was a young timid campus girl trying to find her way around this sport. I saw the fire that was unmatched by anyone even to this date,” Oluoch offered.

He said when he eventually took over coaching the team, the real Luchivya was unleashed on the court as the team leader in scores, rebounds, assists and steals. “Putting her on the bench was the only way to cool her off!” he added. 

“She will guard the other team’s best players but most importantly, she is a great person, a leader who doesn’t back down from her beliefs.”

He sums up her competitiveness by recalling how she played the entire 40 minutes during a Fiba Africa Zone Five game in a humid Dar-es-salaam gymnasium, guiding the team to the championship before collapsing and passing out after the final whistle.

Luchivya captained the national team to the All Africa Games in Algiers, Algeria in 2007. She admits that was the best Kenyan side ever assembled. An exceptional side with all-round players that performed well on the continental platform.

“I have not seen Kenya assemble a team like that one. We finished behind Angola, Nigeria, Senegal and Mozambique. But I still believe we should have made it to the semi-finals had we not panicked a bit against Mozambique,” she revealed.

Veteran national team head coach Ronny Owino said his dedicated team leader who propelled Kenya to the fifth position in the Pan Africa meeting is an extremely industrious player.

“Luchivya is one of the most focused and determined players I have ever coached and knows how to get the job done. She has kept Storms together and will quit the game on her own terms and not because of age which to her is just but a number.”

He adds, “ She is a level headed leader who leads by example. What she might lack in skill she makes up for it by sheer grit and determination.

The tigerish Luchivya has had many memorable battles on the basketball courts in and out of the country. But hard-fought duels against 16-time national champions Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) over the years remains etched forever in her mind.

She said the ports-women produced the best out of her and she is still ready to take them head-on again when the league finally resumes.   

Long-serving KPA coach Anthony Ojukwu, who also handled Luchivya at the national team, vividly remembers the matches against her from the time she burst onto the scene at Eaglets to Storms.

“One of the toughest players I have ever come across as a coach. Very quick, skilful, talented and with a lot of energy. A very hard-working player whose work ethics can not be compared to anyone.”

“With her on your team, you can always expect good results. At her age and still going strong, young players should emulate her as a good example and keep working hard because age has no factor.”

As she continues to defy age until the time to call it quits, Luchivya will keep pushing herself to the limit for as long as her opponents can’t outdo her on the court. If they do, then she will finally say it is over.

“I had said two years ago that I was quitting. But there is still a bit more. If my job, health and God allow me, I will move on. I am not sure, maybe in two or three years from now I will call it a day,” she says.

Luchivya, an accounts manager at Coca-Cola Beverages Africa Kenya, heaps praise on Isaac Kwoba, a former national football player who has been by her side for more than a decade as her number one supporter, adviser and great inspiration. 

Luchivya, who also managed Kenya and Nairobi City women teams, says her son Albert Kwomba is a talented footballer aspiring to conquer the world.

She will move into administration after calling it a day. Currently, she is the treasurer of the Kenya Women’s Basketball Commission and also served as assistant secretary in Nairobi Basketball Association (NBA).