•Okumu has taken her hockey career to another level and she is currently the Scorpions and national team captain.
•While in form 3, she was convinced by the hockey teacher that her future was in hockey.
The best athletes are the ones who have the steely determination to win. An athlete who shows complete dedication towards his sport will surely reap great rewards over a period of time. Sports just like in life, requires perseverance, self-denial, hard work, sacrifice, dedication and respect for authority.
Strathmore Scorpions’ Gilly Okumu is a sharp-witted student who towers above all the above attributes.
With the stick in her hand and a cork kissing the astroturf, Okumu has had the opportunity to play professional in Germany, an opening that has only been limited to a few other Kenyan players.
Others who have had a similar chance are Butali duo of Barnabas Odhiambo and Zack Aura, who had successful stints in Italy and Kenya Police’s Willis Okeyo who played both in Bangladesh and Germany. Okeyo also tutors women side, USIU Spartans. Former Blazers’ striker and national captain Betsy Ommala has been in England since 2016 playing for Slough Hockey Club.
Okumu has taken her hockey career to another level and she is currently the Scorpions and national team captain.
But what makes Okumu a stand out player and how has her German tour impacted on the upcoming generation?
Well, Okumu is one of the multi-talented sportswomen in the country who needed to be level-headed to find the perfect-fit sport. Of course, Pauline Naise of Sailors is the renowned juggler who has succeeded in both football and hockey.
Okumu’s love for football in her formative years was second to none but because life is made up of an infinite amount of choices, it’s the big decisions—the ones that can change your life forever—that matter.
For her, she chose to confront the options before her with courage and confidence—opening up herself to a fulfilling path filled with numerous possibilities.
Rather than procrastinate in fear of making the wrong decision, hers was a bold one and she doesn’t regret. Her football journey began at Sinyolo Girls High School in Nyanza as a Form 1 student in 2010. Sinyolo is well known in matters hockey but she initially settled for football and was one of the burly strikers available within the team.
However, in Form 3, she was convinced by the hockey teacher that her future was in hockey. She initially objected to the request but because decisions are the frequent fabric of our daily life, she teamed up with the side in 2012 for the history making title triumph.
“I have made decisions in my life but this one of quitting football in favour of hockey is probably the toughest. It, however, opened the door for stardom and for the first time in the history of the institution, we not only graced the nationals but won it in style. We also announced our arrival in East Africa Secondary Schools Championships by winning the regional trophy. This was an eye opener for me.”
Okumu was named the Most Valuable Player at the nationals and won the top scorer’s award at the regionals with 8 goals. The 25-year-old started playing for Strathmore in 2012 while still in high school before joining the team officially in 2014 when she enrolled for a Bachelors of Business Management degree course. Her star has continued to shine with Scorpions under the tutelage of Meshack Senge, finishing in the top three in the last six seasons despite not bagging the crown.
On individual level, Okumu has scored over 80 goals over the same period with Scorpions. She has won the Nairobi Conference Kenya University Sports Association (KUSA) titles four times between 2014-2017 and was named MVP in the same tournament in 2017. Okumu was also the MVP at Strathmore in 2016. She joined the national team in 2014 and has over 50 caps, scoring three goals in the process.
Okumu was named Woman of the Year at Strathmore upon her graduation in 2018. In the Kenya Hockey Union (KHU) league, she has won the top scorer’s award twice (2017 and last year). Her unrivalled performance on the local scene gave her a ticket to test herself abroad in Germany, last year. According to the maverick forward, whose composed displays have left tanques wagging, hockey is a vehicle that has enabled her to achieve a lot in a short span despite the sport being given little attention.
She advised the younger generation to listen to the inner voice and never say never. “It doesn’t matter in what field you are in. Nothing short of hard work, determination and self drive will help you achieve your goals. To be honest, hockey has educated me and helped me meet successful people. With it, also comes the exposure and playing overseas has always been my ambition. Utmost discipline can take you places,” said Okumu, who started playing football in class six and also turned up for Huruma-based MYSA football club.
“Little did I know that a change in heart, which was initially impossible, would open up bigger doors and great accomplishments for me. Don’t limit yourself. Many people limit themselves to what they can do. You can go as far as your mind lets you go. What you believe, remember you can achieve.”
Okumu was named national team vice captain in 2018 before assuming total responsibility last year during the Olympic qualifiers in Stellenbosch, South Africa. Her best moment with the Kenya team was in 2015 when the team finished third during the World Cup qualifiers in South Africa. “We had one of the strongest teams at that time and competitions was healthy. The girls put their best foot forward.”
Okumu challenged young players to work extra hard to make a name for themselves. “They shouldn’t be afraid of mistakes since learning is a continuous process. There are no shortcuts to success and all one needs is to train hard and wait for the right moment to prove doubters wrong,” she added.
She continued: “Nobody is born perfect. We all have our weaknesses. Make mistakes and learn. If you are scared to polish your inadequacies, you won’t learn. Those who exploit their full potential are the ones ready to go the extra mile.”
By still donning the Scorpions’ jersey, Okumu says she’s giving back to the institution that gave her the platform for recognition.
She, however, didn’t rule out seeking a fresh challenge in the near future but promised not to make a rushed decision.
“Of course people need to move on and get better but I haven’t made that decision. When time comes, I will grab the opportunity with both hands and give it my best shot. I still have unfinished business with Strathmore. Winning the league with Strath will be a crowning moment for me. Should the chance to play abroad again materialise, I won’t hesitate.”
Okumu ranks among the top three strikers in the country. Former Kenya International, current Blazers player and national team coach Jacqueline Mwangi was voted the best striker a month ago in an online interview conducted by the star. Okumu and Blazers’ Audrey Omaido are the others. Lack of equipment has been deterrent to the sport but with the new technical bench in place, the captain hopes things will be fine.
At the same time, she challenged KHU to source for finances to enable players to comfortably take part in tournaments. “The absence of equipment is a problem that has persisted for too long and i think things can change if this issue is sorted out once and for all. I believe coach Jacqueline Mwangi and her team will look into this matter.”
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to cripple sporting activities and the return to action still uncertain, Okumu wants players to continue with the individual training to be match fit and ready for action when federations will be given the all-clear by the government to return to the field. The pandemic has offered the players who were nursing injuries a chance to recover fully. “Players should carry on with their activities normally like before wherever they are. Fitness is key in sports.”