It is late March and winter is sneaking in like a thief in the night slowly taking away the warmth of summers joy and hear we are to delight you with a tale that is sure to warm your heart. We took time out to speak to son of the soil Owen Mvimbi a man who’s humility knows no depth and which has driven him Godly heights as a hero who has opened our eyes as the black nation to our possibilities. For now since our brother has conquered the world, it leaves us with no doubt as to our potential to do so as well. Further he has made it his purpose to help his flock and deliver them to the promised land.

Owen Mvimbi is the first black hockey professional player to ever play in the Belgium League. He was born and bred in Johannesburg. He grew up in the East of Johannesburg and was born in Baragwaneth Hospital on Soweto. He told us a bit about his upbringing;

“I am just an ordinary guy like anyone else. I was those young black boys who grew up “emakitchini” in the backroom with his mom, who was a domestic worker. Fortunately my mom made many sacrifices together with my dad to put me into a good primary school (Hurlyvale Primary and Bedfordview Primary) and high school (Jeppe High School for Boys). As you know, life was tough; I only started playing sport in grade 5 because my coach at Bedfordview Primary could supply equipment for me. Before then I was just a guy who played sports in the park or in the streets when we went to our Shack on weekends in Germiston. There was always love and church while I was growing up so my mom prayed really hard for me and God has done really well for me so far. Jeppe Boys was a changing point in my life where I truly saw the talent I had as a sportsman. It being a top school, the coaches groomed and believed in my abilities which instilled belief in me to represent the school to the best of my ability.”

It was this humble upbringing that set the foundation for successes to come and established Owen as a world beater. He told us more about his upbringing;

“My upbringing teaches me to be humble. Many people more fortunate than I was with more opportunities didn’t have the hunger or desire to want to push on regardless of the circumstance for example, catching a bus home or walking home in the rain after training, sometimes not having lunch for training after school, or not having the best equipment. Everything that we want to achieve is in our minds and it all depends how badly you want to do what you love or perform at a particular level. Secondly is the support I received from my mom; she was never able to watch me play until I played in a final or really big important games yet she asked me how i trained and how I played every time i came home and my performance would always make her proud whether I performed or failed as she loved and understood sport. so having less actually made life easier once I started having more because I had no excuse not to give it my all and take my game to the next level be it, studies, sport or work. It also taught me not to underestimate any opponents as many have underestimated my ability before I proved myself, to be honest I even underestimated myself for many years. SO staying humble is crucial because without the people around you to support you, believe in you, train with you, push you, challenge you and be honest with you, you are unable to grow the required level.”

We ask Owen whether growing up he ever was in doubt about achieving his dreams or whether he was always self-assured and confident in his abilities;

“I always wanted to be a professional sportsman, having played club soccer from primary school until I was 16. It was always and only a dream. I never saw myself playing or believed I would be good enough, be it, cricket, hockey or soccer. Only once I was in the u/21 national team and some of my peers played for the National team did I believe and envision myself playing for the SA Men’s Hockey Team, but before then I was playing more for Jeppe and too make sure we never lost any matches. The pain of announcements on Monday morning saying that we had lost a match would eat me alive the whole week. Fortunately in my 2 years playing 1st team hockey at Jeppe we only lost 2 games in Gauteng and 3 games nation-wide which I was proud of.”

Owen played various sports like football, athletics, hockey and rugby in under 14 where he broke his collar bone but ultimately settle on hockey as his sport of choice, he told us why he chose hockey;

“I played rugby when I was u/14 and my team was excellent, we were unbeaten in 4 games and I scored a try every game but during a training session I broke my collar bone and my parents forbade me from playing rugby because I missed 4 weeks of football due to that injury, thus the next year I played hockey and it’s all uphill from there. “

He then moved on to play hockey in University;

“My varsity hockey experience is what took my hockey level to the point where I believed I could compete with the best in the country as well as in the world. I played 2nd team from 2-3 years at UJ learning and watching players that had more experience and playing ability than I did. This made my peers and I train extremely hard in order to try catch up and/or even keep up. In my 1st 2 years being at UJ, our 1st team never made it to the SASSU(Inter-Universities Tournament) finals, always out in the semi-finals and as a spectator I always wanted to win that tournament. The following 4 years we lost in the final each year which was heart breaking, but in the 5th year, without a coach we finally won the tournament. This build up, and pressure to play again, consistently perform, be known as chokers and still make a 5th final and win it, is the type of mentality that keeps me going now so I never give up no matter what. UJ went on to with 3 SASSUs and 2 Varsity Cup trophies in a row making it close to 10 final appearances in a row. That is the type of University that I was a part of, the team/varsity that all other teams want to beat more than any other and that was because of our performance we put in year in and year out. This experience was amazing because I had ups and downs but the downs were not so bad having been a silver medallist but the golden moments were worth the wait every time. FYI I was at University for seven year, getting 2 Degrees and an Honours Degree all record time. The other years after that I was just supporting the youngsters who I played with during my time there too and making sure they keep up the legacy. “

Owen feels that Varsity hockey is the best feeder for hockey in our country because players train and gym like professionals compared to club hockey around the country. So from University Owen then moved on to play in Belgium;

“Best hockey experience in my life. I was finally a professional sportsman, being paid to do what i love. No studying, no working, just hockey and more hockey. It was freezing and the culture was different as well as the language but I was ready for it because I had an opportunity to be paid to do what I love. Training sessions were much longer, way more intense. Coaches and players were way more intelligent at younger ages and the love for the game was deeper than I had ever seen before. I loved the experience and I want to instil such systems, techniques as well as mentalities with SA. It was also quite hectic being the 1st Black player to play in the Belgium top league, they had coloured player playing there before but Black African I was the 1st which was an honour but also disappointing as I knew so many talented black players that could play at that level too but didn’t get the opportunity.”

In terms of how the opportunity came about;

“I was emailing clubs overseas to see if they were interested in my hockey profile/CV, and when i was done i contacted a friend of mine Kevan Demartinis who I played hockey with since i was 16 years old and we against each other as well as with each other in the u/21 SA national team. He was currently playing in Belgium and I asked him if he knew any clubs that were interested and he said his club is interested and thus he looked at my profile(even though he knew it very well), spoke to management at his club and within 10 minutes i had a club to play for being La Gantoise Hockey Club. Truly blessed by my mother’s prayers I tell you. He trusted me, and he was actually coaching at that time and for his age, his knowledge for hockey was incredible wow. I learnt a lot from someone who was my peer, teammate and friend.”

We asked him to contrast the international experience with playing locally;

“International hockey is like playing against Barcelona and Real Madrid. Locally, it’s like playing against teams in Mvela league. Internationally, hockey is professional, players are paid and play hockey full time, hockey locally is a part time sport where players sacrifice and pay to play and have other important issues and responsibilities to take care of. It’s a very big difference, can’t compare at all.”

Owen having achieved so much in his hockey career told us what he considered were his biggest achievements in sport;

“My debut against Argentina, at my home ground at Randburg hockey astro and equally as good was being at the World Student Games in Russia playing and watching the best student sportsmen and women in the world all at one venue.”

We asked Owen on his views on locally hockey and where he would change the current local setup;

“Funding, coaches, attitude of young and talented players, youth development, politics where parents are not involved in selections. There is really a lot that must change but in a quick summary, coaches need to trust all the players on the field at a higher level and be able to groom and identify talented players. the country needs a nationwide hockey league so all players across the country can be seen by all.”

There was no hockey team at the recent RIO Olympics, what sort of impact he thought this had on the state of hockey in the country;

Terrible impact, youngsters who play hockey as well as other sports will rather choose to pursue another sport rather than hockey, furthermore many players who have been training for 3-4 years to be at the Olympic did not have the opportunity to test themselves at the highest level. The negative impact was tough but those who are willing to push hard for the next big events will put their hands up and be counted, this isn’t the tie to be quitting, it is time to build, perform and make sure that hockey in SA never experiences such ever again.”

Owen certainly holding no punches, has since returned to home and is currently working whilst playing professional hockey, we asked him how he manages to juggle his schedules;

“Time management and sacrifice. I have to sacrifice my time after work and in the morning to gym and train, furthermore I have to sacrifice leave days so I can play in Hockey tournament, sacrifice money to pay for tournaments and tours. So it’s all about how much you enjoy playing at the top level and what you will do to stay there. Many of the players my age are still full time hockey players, but my friends and teammates from UJ like I are able to manage their time, families, friends, and work together with their hockey and still play in the national team. If you not willing to sacrifice sleep, series, movies, midweek outings then do not even think about making it.”

Owen Mvimbi is notably an ambassador for success amongst black South Africans from all backgrounds. His journey not only inspires one to greater heights but makes one conscious of their own excellence. He had a message for the youth in particular;

“Dream BIG, think about your dreams every day all the time, picture yourself living your dreams. Remember that your dreams sometimes change and sometimes get bigger, but they must never get smaller. If you do this enough, you will be that girl or boy that smiles by themselves when you are alone and at that point you will do whatever it takes to make that happy, perfect emotion and dream a reality. People all over the world will tell you that you can’t do it, even your friends and family, but if you want it enough, you will meet people who believe in you and you must keep them close and work even harder so that you are getting better…then when you are down and out, tired and I want to give up… close your eyes and dream again of your dream, see yourself lifting the trophy, signing the cheque, giving your speech and once you smile and happy again… get up and try again, and again and again. Learn from your mistakes, but remember you have to make mistakes to learn. Lastly, enjoy every single moment, when you dream, dream of something you enjoy, not what someone else likes, but what you like… and ENJOY IT!!LOVE IT!!!PRAY, PRAY, PRAY… you can do it, but with the support of God, the tough times won’t be too bad.”

In closing Owen Mvimbi we salute brother of soil, your story is one of the foundations we built Grit Sports on and that is to celebrate our black heroes our own way, long may the legacy you have created and continue creating continue, we shall never forget. We humbly thank you for the honour of sharing your story.