By Javier Silas Omagor
Typically, the fastest 800m woman on the planet was never going to make it in life, leave alone in sports or education.
About 27 years ago, Halimah Nakaayi happened to be born to Mukono district parents who were financially deprived.
Nonetheless, they wanted the very best for their first-born of four but could only educate her up to lower primary.
Walk through the storm to stardom
The parents could not further Nakaayi’s education despite her huge passion for academics.
It was as if the whole world was crushing on the former Olympics youth gold winner.
“It was difficult. My parents had no money but they kept telling me that the only way to success in life was through education.
“At a tender age, I was living between a hard place and a rock. I prayed for sponsorship here and there,” Nakaayi emotionally reminisced in an exclusive interview with the Kampala Sun.
Luckily enough for the Uganda Wildlife Authority – UWA Athletics Club runner, that prayer was definitely answered.
Mukono Children’s Home Primary School management identified some super athleticism talent in Nakaayi and they took their chances by giving her a full primary school bursary.
“This was a sigh of relief for the desperate me then. I got my prayer request and went back to school.
“The talent was already showing though I was still young. I learnt how to run, play netball, volleyball and even music.
“But Athletics was my major sport as I used to travel abroad with the national senior team to fill the gap where necessary in big competitions.
“During my P.7 vacation I was given a chance to go to Rwanda for an individual 800m race and I won a silver medal for my country – that was my maiden international medal in athletics.
“But I had won so many inter-school medals at national level,” Nakaayi who is also Uganda’s record holder in 100m recollected.
Missing St. Mary’s Kitende was a blessing in disguise
After her Primary Leaving Examination (PLE), the primary Head-teacher stepped in to ensure she got the right secondary school to help nurture both her academics and athletics.
First attempt was St. Mary’s Kitende where she was given a partial bursary.
“At Kitende I was given a partial bursary but my parents never had money to pay the other remaining half.
“I vividly remember when they took me there (Kitende), the school netball coaches already knew me because I was a standout netballer back then at national level.
“But half bursary could not work for me given my family condition,” the country’s most successful female sprinter recounted.
Though it was a major reason she could not join Kitende, there was another altogether.
“My Primary Headmaster observed that netball was not going to be a good path for me for future success because I am a short person yet netball is a game of heights.
It was always going to be Bombo SS
“He (Head–teacher) did not give up on me. He committedly continued to search for a better school offer and that is how Bombo SS came into the picture,” she said.
It was a win – win situation at Bombo as she was offered a full bursary instantly.
It is here where the World Athletics Indoors Championships bronze medallist also met one of her current UWA Athletics Club coaches Rogers Ndiwa who was by then a teacher at Bombo SS and a sports master at the same time.
Ndiwa was very vital in a way as he appreciated Nakaayi’s talent and convinced the school to offer her a full scholarship.
Within the first term of her Bombo SS life, the Mukono–born sprint sensation did not waste time to show her sports credentials to the delight of the school administration.
“In my S.4, I traveled to Singapore for the Youth Olympics and in 2010, I took flights to so many countries but I never declined in class performance.
“Whenever I had an interventional race, I would take my books with me and ensure that I revised them constantly throughout the journey.
“As fellow passengers went about shopping during stop-overs at different airports, I remained behind revising my books,” she said
While in S.4 Nakaayi also got a chance to participate in the youth Commonwealth Games in 2011 where she won her first international gold medal.
“My sports success started when I was still young but I stuck to my studies because I wanted to change this perception that sports people are academic failures.
“At school I was in stream A and always among the top six,” she disclosed.
The Sprinter revealed that her secret weapon was and remains to be time management.
“Time is always available for everything once you plan to manage it well,” she advised.
She sat for form six in 2013 at the aforementioned school where she did History Economics Geography / Industrial Art.
“I performed well and enrolled for my bachelors’ degree program at Kampala University.
“I could have joined so many other Universities who wanted to sign me to run for them including Makerere and UCU Universities.
“But because my coach trained at KU and most of my training partners including Winnie Nanyondo were already students at KU,” the soft spoken Olympian justified her University choice.
In 2017, the country’s indoor and outdoor record–holder in 800m graduated in Computer Science and Information Technology.
She also attained a certificate in Computer Information System Com (CISCO) , one of the hard papers in the IT world.
“Most athletes hail from humble backgrounds so it is always good to make use of every available opportunity.
“I always tell fellow athletes that no matter where you come from, you can always be successful once you have commitment, focus, belief and trust in God.
“It is always rewarding to have a good and constructive group of friends around you because I think that is what helped in my academics,” Nakaayi tipped.
Nakaayi alias Queen Hali is a phenomenon, and a true living legendary example to emulate both as an athlete and a vicious lady.