Monday, July 15, 2024

What’s next for Moyengwa? 

“It hurts to walk away from my first love but life circumstances are forcing me to walk away from it all,” a defeated Magdeline Moyengwa says. 

A week ago, Batswana got their first glimpse of Moyengwa. She graced the inaugural Annual Botswana Women Sports Awards where she was awarded  the ‘Courage Award.’ A little gaunt in appearance, the petite  22-year-old looked a shadow of her former self.

Her appearance at the awards, it seems, brought back some nostalgic memories. Memories which she is still trying to banish. The recognition and the award brought to the fore emotions she held deep under. The reality that weightlifting, the sport she describes as her first love, is fast becoming a bitter sweet memory of her past sunk.

“I am truly grateful for this award. I am still in shock because I did not know I was going to receive it. When they called me and told me I was invited I told them I could not attend because I was taking care of someone who is not well. But they insisted and begged me to come and I eventually gave in,” she says.

When this publication caught up with her post the awards, emotions cut deep and her voice breaks as she comes to terms with her departure from the sport.

“Circumstances beyond my control are forcing me out of my first love. I know people believe my Zezuru culture is the reason I quit. That is not true. My health does not allow me to return to weightlifting,” an emotional Moyengwa says.

“After thorough consultations with medical experts, I have been told to stay away from weightlifting for three years. But it is also not guaranteed that after the said three-year stay elapses, I will be cleared to return to the sport. Either way, by the time I return, I would be forced to start from scratch and relearn everything.” 

This is Moyengwa as she is today, defeated, a shadow of the headline grabbing Olympian she is. Her unexpected qualification for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics quickly drifted her into the world stratosphere.

Not only that she was the first weightlifter from Botswana, both men and women, to qualify for the Olympics. As a female, her strict Zezuru culture and her upbringing made her an outlier in the local sporting fraternity. It is unheard of for baZezuru girls to ascend the highest scales of sports excellence.

Moyengwa’s rise was seen as a girl child breaking cultural barriers. She was a symbol of hope. Her rise was expected to open pathways and inspire others like her, those bonded by cultural expectations.

But as she has come to realise, her culture was not the only detriment. Where culture yielded, those surrounding her still vilified it. It was often used as a scapegoat for those handling her to hide behind whenever questions arise as to why she ‘disappeared from sport.’ 

The diminutive athlete says immediately after the Olympics, she requested a break like any other athlete. Unfortunately for her, confusion ensued as people debated whether she had been forced out of the sport or retired. This came in the backdrop of media reports that she was getting married. 

All this was not helped by the passing of her father in October 2020. He was known as the man who protected her and supported her sports career. Many, it seems, erroneously believed her father ‘was the one standing between her and being forced to quit sport for cultural reasons, in this instance, marriage.’ Moyengwa says this is not necessarily the entire story.

In the athletes own words, when her father passed on, he was aware of her relationship status and where it was leading. Unfortunately, he passed on in the year she was due for engagement. Due to the new development, it was decided to move the engagement and marriage to March 2021 to allow a moment of bereavement. 

That her father was her biggest support system in her short-lived career is not a secret. She however feels those telling her story never told it in its entirety. She says there are others who also supported her career. 

“I know people have different views and opinions about my culture, but my people were behind me including my husband. Even my coach knew everything what was happening including my marriage arrangements,” she says. 

Moyengwa says she was therefore shocked when Facebook posts from her coach and some media outlets wrote that she was retiring. “The sad reality is no one, save for Women and Sport Botswana (WASBO) and one or two media outlasts reached out to hear my story.” 

“I do not know what transpired and caused all those rumours but my marriage was nearly destroyed by the lies. I had requested a break. I was not aware that I would have health complications along the way. Even still, the confusion of my retirement long started when we came back from the Olympics,” she notes. 

In the midst of the confusion, she says together with her husband  they tried to clear the air with the coach. “We tried by all means to contact my coach and get an understanding of what is going on. Unfortunately, the damage had already been done,” she says.

As she gets ready to walk away from the sport, there is still a lingering feeling of betrayal. Moyengwa believes she was unfairly treated. “It still hurts that I was treated the way I was treated. I love weightlifting but at this point I have to let it go and focus on other things,” she says. 

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