Ajax Cape Town goalkeeper Renaldo 'Pie' Leaner, UWC women's football coach Amanda Nkopho and Namibian international netball star Jaumbuaije Zauana managed the “difficult task” of balancing academics and sport to complete their degrees.
Leaner and Nkopho graduated with their degrees in education and Zauana was conferred with a BCom degree in finance – joining hundreds of students who took part in the historic virtual graduation ceremony last week.
“I look back and sometimes I wonder how I balanced my academics and my sport,” Zauana recalls.
“It took hard work, dedication, courage, and prayer to accomplish it. I had many sleepless nights, there were times when I really felt fatigued, but the secret was to take it one step at a time. I had an amazing support system, understanding coaches, motivating friends, and a caring family that kept me going”.
Leaner was already a member of the professional set-up at the First Division (now called GladAfrica Championship) side Ajax, and decided to pursue his education. “I was always thinking about life after football because injuries can keep you out of sport. And also to have something to fall back on when I retire from football one day. Those motivated me to continue with my studies,” says Leaner.
Like Zauana, it was a tough journey. “I never had time for myself. But support from lecturers, coaches and classmates helped a lot. I told them my situation so when I had to miss training to do some academic work or ask for an extension for my assignments they would understand.”
Leaner, who is recovering from a long-term injury which has kept him out of action this season, encouraged the youth “never give up on your dream and work hard because no one will hand you anything on a silver platter”.
Like Leaner, Zauana spoke highly of the university. “UWC has been a place that has helped me grow intellectually and as an athlete. They believe in athletes and the potential that we have.”
Nkopho’s journey was even more arduous. She juggled motherhood, her studies and her sports career.
In 2016 her mother was diagnosed with a chronic illness, and she had to reshuffle her time to assist her. “I just prayed, pushed through more and used my circumstances as fuel to my fire as I knew that I wanted to graduate and make my family proud and create a better future for my 'lil man,” says Nkopho.
Among other student-athletes who graduated last week were:•Netball players Cindy Amsterdam and Akhona Faye;
•Volleyball players Basetsane Malubane;
•Rugby players Darren Jaftha, Thristan Valentyn, Clayton Daniels, Bevan Botha, Peton Pietersen, Keenan Faro, Alwyn Carstens and Aidynn Cupido;
•Hockey stars Zintle Damon, Irma Human, Suhraya Dollie, Andre Engelbrecht, Zymara Dreyer, Goodwill Mamhiyo, Luthando Ndlela and Malerato Joyce Rantsho;
•Cheerleaders Sanasha Moodley and Jade Robin James; and
•Karate stars Sindisa Craig Mbesi, Megan Le Keir and Zaakiyah Abdurahman.
“We are always proud to see our student athletes graduating. It assures us that the message that we constantly remind them about, that they are students before being athletes, is taken seriously. Every student athlete that graduates strengthen the case for sport to exist at a university because they demonstrate that it is always possible to balance academics and sport,” says UWC Sports Director Mandla Gagayi.