•Charltone Otieno's mother, Conjestina Achieng has been grappling with illnesses and related tribulations after a trailblazing career in boxing
•Otieno is an aspiring professional boxer, personal trainer, footballer, scout leader and dancer all rolled into one
•The orthodox, lightweight fighter wants to reach or even surpass the achievements of his legendary mother
Charltone Otieno is the epitome of the adage ‘the apple doesn't fall far from the tree’.
Listening to him is like a trip back in time to one of legendary boxer Conjestina Achieng’s press conferences before one of her many bouts.
“Kujeni mapema kwa sababu kazi itamalizika mapema (Come to the venue early because this will be a straight knockout win at the earliest),” Achieng would say as part of her rallying call to fans.
Likewise, Otieno exudes bullishness customarily associated with pugilists as he outlines his aspirations to become a professional boxer as well as his journey in the sport thus far.
Otieno, 25, hopes to follow in the footsteps of his mother and maybe, surpass her achievements in the boxing ring.
The orthodox fighter is yet to step into the ring for his first professional bout but has already predicted that his debut will be akin to a tsunami wave.
"Everything happens at its own time and I know it's not easy to wake up one day and become a professional boxer. Regardless, I have been training hard, bidding my time when I will get my opportunity to enter the ring. I have been a fighter all my life and when you put me in the ring, best believe that will be a straightforward knockout," the lightweight pugilist says.
His mum's longstanding struggles with illnesses have done little to dampen his love for boxing and an insatiable desire to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the who-is-who in the sport.
On the contrary, Otieno looks to Conjestina for inspiration, having taken his baby steps in boxing under the wings of the legendary boxer.
"I started training to be a boxer when I was five years old. Mum would take me along with her to the gym where she would put me through some sparring sessions. She was a passionate boxer and relentless in training and that is something I have picked from her. Even though I was her son, there was no favouritism or soft treatment from her. She would treat me as if I was preparing for a bout the next day," Otieno recalls.
Even constant efforts by his pals to discourage him from boxing — citing the fate that befell his mother —have fallen on deaf ears as Otieno charts his path towards destiny.
He, for one, does not believe his mother's illnesses are a product of the constant blows to the head, which she took during her bouts.
"My mum was a professional boxer and knew how to protect her head at all times when in the ring. I feel that her illness has more to do with stress and negligence. Regardless, her struggles have motivated me to grow up fast and pursue a better outcome in my boxing career," Otieno says.
He points to mixed martial arts as evidence boxing is not a dangerous sports as many make it seem.
"They (friends) keep telling me that I cannot make it in boxing because of my physique and that the sport is violent. It seems they have not seen MMA and the brutality that accompanies it. Those who point to my physique do not know that boxing has different weight categories," he explains.
Jack of all trades
Despite setting sight on reaching the highest level of boxing, Otieno has not forgotten about his local community as well as aspiring boxers.
He is personal trainer, footballer, scout leader and dancer rolled in one. Otieno wears all these caps with pride, determined to share that which he acquired freely from his mum.
"I provide self-defence lessons to young boys and girls on how to protect themselves from aggressive situations, such as crime and sexual assault. I have also been a scout all my life and I've mentored many other young pupils at Marion Schools in Kiambu and Kahawa West into scouting," he explains.
Otieno, who stays in Kasarani, also provides the area youths with life skills in addition to training them on boxing and other self-defence techniques.
"Rather than expose themselves to different social ills, such as crime and teen pregnancy, the youth are always welcome to approach me for training. There is a gym in Kasarani where I provide them with these skills. Because of hanging around teachers, I consider myself a teacher entrusted with the responsibility of guiding these young people through the vagaries of life," he says.
He is nostalgic about his mother's constant encouragement to focus on his books even as he pursued a career in boxing.
It is Conjestina's tough stance in favour of education that has prepared Otieno for the path he now treads with a singular focus of leaving an indelible mark in the boxing industry.
"Mum would always reiterate that books and pens were the number one priority for my life. I would feel sad whenever she went abroad for her many bouts while I was stuck in boarding school because I really wanted to join her on these trips. Regardless, it is an honour for me to be her son because she is an approachable person who would mingle with anyone irrespective of their social status," Otieno recounts.
The tribulations of Conjestina continue to wreck his heart and Otieno wishes things could change for the better for her.
He believes her mother has been abandoned by stakeholders in the industry whose help Conjestina needs at her trying moment.
"My mum mingled with the who-is-who during her heydays, some of them including politicians. Now that things went south for her, none is forthcoming. I think the government should pay more attention to the boxing industry just like other disciplines such as football and athletics," Otieno says.
These challenges notwithstanding, the young pugilist is forging full steam ahead, focusing on tweaking and erasing his weak areas.
"Although am an orthodox fighter, a professional boxer also needs to be versed in southpaw. Your opponent might find a way to counter your orthodox fighting style and that's when you switch to southpaw. My focus is on acquiring skills as a southpaw fighter so that I am an amalgamation of both styles," he outlines.
Under normal circumstances, one would have expected Otieno to chart a different path considering the fruitless sacrifices that Conjestina made.
However, electing to punch his way to the top and make a name for himself and his family is a true mark of a warrior as exhibited by Conjestina's only child.
Should his aspirations come to fruition, then Conjestina will be an extremely proud mother.