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12 April 2019
Petunia’s Quest for Gold in Africa Sprinter has Eye on Academic Career

Image Courtesy of Roger Sedres/Image SA

(Published - 12 April 2019)

It’s normal for younger siblings to follow in the footsteps of their older brothers and sisters, and UWC star sprinter Petunia Obisi did just that. Although she started as a netball player, she ended up in athletics — just like her older sister Rita. And, boy, is she good at it.

“I used to be a netball player and I loved netball,” the Johannesburg-born Obisi recalls. “But when my sister took me to athletics, I think the fact that I was going to be around her made me feel safe. I hated everything about athletics. I hated the training; it was tough. But, at the end of the day, when you give yourself time, you end up enjoying what you are doing.”

Obisi is good and her performance over the years speak volumes. She was only 14-years-old when she made it to the national championships in the Under-17 category. And in 2016 — the year she enrolled at UWC — she was selected to represent South Africa at the African University Championships, now known as USSA, hosted by the University of Johannesburg. She came home with a gold medal and repeated the feat at the Southern Africa Athletics Championships in Zimbabwe a year later.

The final-year Bachelor of Arts (BA) student in history and gender studies is currently the Western Province Champion and is ranked seventh in 100 metres and 10th in 200 metres in South Africa. She has also won a bronze medal at the national championships and has made the qualifying time for the All-Africa Games that are set to take place in in August. The South African team for the games is yet to be announced but UWC is firmly behind Obisi.

She was among a number of select athletes from the University who jetted off to Europe to take part in this year’s European Season in June and July. The event is contested by top athletes from around the globe, with some sent by their sponsors.

Although she does not have a sponsor, certain people have made it possible for her to travel abroad and UWC paid for her flights this time around. “UWC has always been very supportive of me and I’m grateful for that.”

She was based in Belgium to compete in races in Italy, Netherlands and Germany during the European Season. “The Season is about opportunities and money because there is no money in South Africa. It is good exposure and also provides a second chance to qualify for big competitions that are coming up. My goal is to cement my spot in the All-Africa Games,” says Obisi.

Like many students, Obisi has found it tough to find a balance between sport and studies, and has had to repeat at least one module every year.

“As sportspeople, we tend to devote most of our attention to our sporting careers rather than academics, forgetting that we are actually here for academics,” she acknowledges. “It’s difficult to find the balance sometimes but we must keep on trying.”

This article was first published in the Women's Month special edition of the Blue and Gold - UWC Sports' official magazine. Read the full magazine here.