Tyson Juma - another ex rugby player angling for Omanyala's African record

© Tyson Juma

ATHLETICS Tyson Juma - another ex rugby player angling for Omanyala's African record

Abigael Wafula 09:45 - 19.03.2023

The dog breeder switched to athletics after suffering life threatening injury in rugby.

The stories of apprentice Tyson Juma and Africa's sprint king Ferdinand Omanyala have striking similarities, at least their early forrays into the sport. Young University students with fading rugby blood, fiercely ambitious and backed by sporting families. 

Among the burgeoning numbers of aspiring sprinters, Juma stands out after his Indoor 60m show in Miramas alongside Omanyala. Being his first international debut, Juma could only manage a fourth-place finish in 6.97 and he couldn't manage to proceed to the final. Over the 100m distance, he has a personal best time of 10.47. 

Born in Thika and raised partly there and in Kakamega, the now 24-year-old tried out any sport as long as he felt comfortable there but finally settled in rugby, or so he thought. 

Juma started off his primary school education in Kenyatta Primary School in Thika up to class three and then went ahead to complete his primary school education at Ober Boys Boarding Primary School in Oyugis, where he started off his sporting career in rugby.

He then joined Ringa Boys High School in Homa Bay where his love for rugby could not be stopped by anyone. But there was one thing that used to stand out in his performances as an athlete. He was the fastest rugby player on the field and also, the athletics captain.

Juma narrates that when he joined high school, the team was green in the sport and they were starting off from scratch.

“I had initially tried football and hockey but was not feeling fulfilled. I used to watch people play rugby and decided to give it a try,” he explains. He remembers fondly that on the first day in the field, he made it to the school team.

They were heading out for a tournament against some tough opponents who thrashed them completely. “We had been beaten by a very huge margin, like 80 points. I salvaged some pride for my team with a score in the last minute,” he says.

Sprinter Tyson Juma in action
© Tyson Juma

During the school holidays, Juma would travel back to Nairobi and train with clubs in order to polish his prowess. He says he was part of the Shammas Rugby Foundation where he got a lot of skills. Juma would train twice or even thrice a day because of his love for the sport.

He would train at Shammas in the morning, head to the Impala Club Grounds during the day, and then wrap up his training with the Nondies rugby club later in the evening. He loved the thrill of training with the ‘big boys.’

At the tender age of 15 years old, he had already started going to the gym. “Many ‘cool kids’ from Nairobi did not want to play with me because ‘nilikuwa nimekomaa’. The coach would sometimes tell me to stay out,” he says.

“When going back to school, I would try to teach my fellow players about some basics,” he says. All his effort paid off well because at the time he was leaving the school, rugby had taken root.

Through the sport he got a scholarship to study at the Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (MMUST) where he is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance.

Little did he know that his time as a rugby star was almost ending. While at MMUST, the unimaginable happened because of an injury I got on my head in 2020, which the doctors described as a skull depression. He says the ligaments were bent making it a risky condition because the depression was quite deep.

The accident happened during their final  Kenya Cup fixture against the University of Nairobi and he says he was happy to have helped his side to victory despite not finishing the match.

“I always thought rugby was my thing…but the journey was cut short,” he says calmly.

However, Juma did not leave the rugby scene without a mark. He brags of being a top scorer in the three seasons he played for MMUST, the top try scorer three times, and the top scorer in seven legs of the sevens university series.

The changing of the script

“I woke up after two days in the hospital bed and the first thing that came to my mind was athletics,” he says.

Many people, including me, would have thought of quitting because of going through such a life-threatening incident, but Juma did not, he just changed the script. After playing rugby for nine years, this was a new dawn for him.

He says the rugby coach and some of the players visited him and tried to pull him back to rugby but his mind was set already. “I think I was not wrong,” he says.

Sprinter Tyson Juma in action
© Tyson Juma

Considering Kenya's erstwhile underwhelming shows in sprints Juma's choice to dabble in nonetheless, is a great display of his steely character. 

“I was the fastest player in the field…be it in rugby or football. I also used to represent my school in the sprints despite playing all the other sports,” he says.

He reveals that coming from a family of sportspeople also gave him the morale to keep pushing. He has two brothers, Erick Juma, who played Karate for close to 15 years, and Kevin Juma, who got the honours to play football for Gor Mahia and Mathare United clubs.

One of his two sisters, Mildred Juma was a boxer while Joyce Juma brags about being one of the most experienced karatekas in the country. He says his parents also gave him a go-ahead to do what made him happy.

“My sister (Joyce) encouraged me to take up the challenge and she was very supportive. She would send me tutorials on how to train and also got me training shoes. She has been very key to my growth,” he says.

Coming from a family that thrives in martial arts, Juma says that was not something he had also wanted to do.

February 2021 was when Juma decided to seriously venture into sprinting. He, however, noted that the journey has not been a walk in the park for him.

“It’s one of the toughest journeys I could have chosen…you know rugby involves a lot of team effort but sprinting is mostly about an individual. You have to push yourself in training and maintain discipline. The diet is also very strict

Sprinting is very expensive because you have to sacrifice your time. Money is also a huge factor because you pay for the gym and food,” he says.

He adds that such challenges are what push him to be a better version of himself and work harder. He also says his personal relationship with God is what keeps him going.

His fans also play a huge role in his career.

Juma recounts the tough balancing act between his classes and his career in athletics but says things have to keep going regardless.

Tyson Juma with Africa 100m champion Ferdinand Omanyala
© Tyson Juma

Speaking about his relationship with Omanyala, Juma says he first saw him on YouTube. “First thing that came to my mind was that we look alike,” he chuckles.

Juma says he would also want to be like him and hold such honours in the near future. He explains how Omanyala has been a great support system to him.

“It’s his time to shine. He is a great guy and I’m always lucky to be around him…we sometimes train together and he pushes me to be a better athlete. His actions are also enough motivation and I believe I’m next in line. I want to be like him,” he says.

Juma is also optimistic that sprints have a bright future ahead considering the rate at which many people are joining the category. He, however, notes that in order to achieve a world-class standard, Kenya has to step up.

By the end of the 2023 season, Juma hopes to have his Team Kenya debut. “I also want to run sub 10,” he adds.

Apart from Omanyala, Juma also draws inspiration from six-time heavyweight champion Mike Tyson and the 100m world record holder Usain Bolt of Jamaica.

During his free time, Juma loves to spend time with his dogs. “I am a dog breeder…I love chilling with my pets,” he chuckles.

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