Zimbabwe Students Defy the Odds in Brazzaville

When 100+ member Team Zimbabwe marched into the Stadium in Brazzaville as part of the Opening  Ceremony of the 11th edition of the Africa Games on Friday night (2 September 2015), several high school students were proudly among them.  This year’s edition of the elite sporting continental championships, running 2 -19 September and televised on SuperSport, marks the 50th anniversary of the games, which was originally held in the same city.  Olympian Kirsty Coventry, who is currently based at Swim Mac Elite in North Carolina preparing for the Rio 2016 Olympics, is serving as the Captain of Team Zimbabwe in Brazzaville.

The Africa Games pit the top athletes from over 50 countries on the continent in 23 disciplines ranging from football to track and field, swimming to basketball to wrestling.  It is rare to find U19 athletes in such an elite field, with no junior categories, yet at least four Zimbabwean high school students are defying the odds.

Zimbabwe’s tennis side at the Africa Games includes up and coming teenage tennis sensation Rufaro Chirewa, who is completing A levels on her own given her grueling tennis schedule but who formerly attended Chisipite Senior School.

Rufaro Chirewa and Stephanie Mbaya
Rufaro Chirewa poses with her Kenyan partner after winning a doubles tournament gold earlier this year.

Cyclists Helen Mitchell, both students at Hellenic Academy will be cycling for Zimbabwe at the Africa Games, Skye having just returned from the World XCO Mountain Biking Junior Championships in Andorra.  They are continuing on to World Road Cycling Championships in Richmond, Virginia after the Brazzaville competition.  Both are carrying books with them, preparing for their upcoming A level exams next month.

Swimming sensation Peter Wetzlar, who is preparing to write his Matric exams at Westville Boys High School in South Africa, is fresh from the Jr World Championships in Singapore where he scored three new personal bests.  Alongside him in the pool for Zimbabwe, are two swimmers currently on sports scholarships in the United States.  Sean Gunn, formerly of St George’s College, is a student athlete at University of Kentucky, while Tarryn Rennie, formerly of Hellenic Academy, swims as a student at Fresno State University in California.  Teammate Chad Idensohn, a student since January at the University of Arizona, had to pull out of the games at the last minute due to illness.  James Lawson, who graduated from St George’s College and swims at the High Performance Center in Pretoria rounds off the swim team.

Zimbabwe has sent a large delegation to the Africa Games in Brazzaville, including participants and teams in athletics, cycling, beach volleyball, football, gymnastics, judo, karate, rugby, swimming, taekwondo and tennis.  Among the green tracksuited team representing the nation you will find high school students with textbooks in hand – all respect to them while they balance their studies with competition at the highest level.