‘It all started with being chased for stealing sugar’

19 May, 2024 - 00:05 0 Views
‘It all started with being chased for stealing sugar’ Makanakaishe Charamba

The Sunday Mail

Tinashe Kusema

IN her book “The Storm Runner”, New York bestselling author Jeniffer Cervantes had a quote which captures the journey that the latest Zimbabwean to qualify for the Olympic Games — Makanakaishe Charamba (pictured) — has travelled in his athletics career.

Cervantes wrote: “Destiny comes knocking, and if you don’t open the door, she will come in through the window.”

In another universe, the book could have been written about United States-based sprinter Charamba.

He hogged the limelight last weekend when he became the latest name to join Team Zimbabwe for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris in July.

Charamba secured his ticket to Paris after running an impressive 20 seconds in the 200m race at the Auburn Track & Field Outdoor Championships in Florida.

The 22-year-old became the fifth member to join the elite class that includes marathon runners Isaac Mpofu and Rutendo Nyahora, rower Steve Cox and fellow 200m sprinter Tapiwa Makarawu for the Paris Games.

Yet there was a very good chance that this Olympics dream might not have taken place, especially if the Auburn University student had decided to follow his whims and continued to ignore the many times that destiny came calling.

“Rugby rather than athletics was my first love; at least that was the case until when the Covid-19 pandemic hit,” said Charamba. “During the pandemic, I had a heart-to-heart talk with my late mother, and we weighed the pros and cons of both sports.

“This is when we came up with the decision to drop rugby and focus solely on the track as it had better opportunities.”

Before that, Charamba seemed to continuously ignore the many signs and countless times destiny seemed to nudge him away from the rugby pitch and towards a life on the track.

“Well, it’s a funny story and I can trace my first callings at athletics to when I was about three years old,” he said. “I used to steal sugar and my mom would always warn me that she was going to hit me.

“Eventually, she got sick and tired and ended up telling my father, who tried chasing me around the house and couldn’t catch me. My mother saw something special in me and urged me to pursue the sport.”

When Charamba enrolled at Lewisam, for his primary education, he tried out for the athletics team, but failed to make the grade.

Dejected, he then tried his luck at hockey and rugby.

The 22-year-old turned out to be good at both sports and excelled in rugby, especially.

“When I then went to high school at Kutama College, I was mainly into rugby,” said Charamba.

“However, there was this particular day when we had our inter-house competitions, and my housemates just asked me to go and run for fun.

“I went there and beat the guy who was rumoured to be one of the fastest in our year group.” Still, he refused to read much into this feat.

“I still didn’t take the sport seriously and said to myself ‘yeah, it happened and it’s okay, let me go back to rugby’,” he said.

Fortunately, this time around, a lot of people took notice, after which Charamba was asked to come back and he made the relay team.

His rugby coach, at the time, Crispen Mhike, even took notice and advised him to try the track again.

Mhike introduced him to the athletics coach, Ted DeWolf, and soon enough, the athletics bug had finally taken a big enough bite that Charamba ended up balancing rugby and athletics. Since then he has built an athletics resume that includes being a former national champion at the Under-18 level (2008) and seven-time Manicaland champion in the 200m, 100m and 4X100 metres relay (2018, 2019 and 2020).

He qualified for the Youth Olympics and African Youth Championships in 2018.

In the US, Charamba is a three-time NCAA champion, eight-time All-American and seven-time South Atlantic Conference (SAC) champion. He is also the Carson Newman School record holder in the 200m indoor and outdoor and 4x100m relay.

However, Charamba’s crowning moment has to be qualifying for the Olympics.

“It means the whole world to me,” he said. “My sisters and cousins have been talking about this for the longest time, and my cousins had promised in our WhatsApp group chat called ‘Vazukuru’ that they were going to come and watch.

“Making the Olympics means everything, not just to me, but to my whole family. It takes a whole village to achieve this and my coaches and mentors also believed in me from day one.”

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