It was a big win for Kenya in the recent Arnold Schwarzenegger Sports Festival’s held in South Africa, as the country’s Evelyn Owala scooped two trophies following her exemplary performance.
The annual sports festivals are sponsored by the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness umbrella body better known as IFBB.
Speaking exclusively to Kahawa Tungu, the Homa Bay-born star didn’t hide her joy as she welcomed the May victory.
“I participated in the category of wellness, its a category for women out there putting Kenya on the world map.
“There are different categories for example in my category there was the height level [muscle part in the height level]. I was in the level below 163 [Centimeters]. The other category is for people above 163 [Centimeters]. The other medal was [for] overall win in all height categories, ” Owala said.
Owala, however, was not the only Kenyan who participated in the competitions. She was accompanied by Wilson Munene, who represented Kenya in the male bodybuilders’ category.
Her journey, to compete at the International level, has not been easy, she says.
Growing in Mbita area, the star never at one time visualized a career in the male-dominated sport – after secondary school, she pursued a career in banking.
However, her stay in the banking industry was short-lived, as she identified her place in the bodybuilding industry nine years into the profession.
“I didn’t see myself having a career in it [Body building] before, but sometimes you find yourself doing something you like and if it gives you money…” she said.
On if it was influenced she said: “my husband had been training ever since he cleared form four. So, he was physically fit with muscles. After some time the synergy rubs on and you try it and you like what you see.”
At first, her father was opposed to her decision to quit her job at a local bank, but years later he has learnt to live with it. He actually loves what she does, Owala says.
“Initially my dad was [opposed to it] because my real mom passed on … my other mom was very understanding, she was like that’s her thing let her do it. My dad was like you know am a pastor, you can’t be walking in a bikini. But I think when he realized that I was not changing who I was as I remained true to self, he has come to love it and I think the best call I got through all this experience is my dad’s call [when I win], it’s normally priceless, the last one was amazing because he was so excited. It has taken a process to understand what I do, ” she said.
Her husband, siblings and more importantly her fans have been a great pillar in her life as she pursues her dreams of participating in even higher levels of the sport.
“I gain energy by working out. Fans can push you quite a bit, they have expectations you’re going to train, you’re going to show them how to work out… I can’t slack. Every time presents a different motivation, right now am trying to put myself out there which means it’s a bigger challenge for me because I don’t know how hard they are working so I have to present myself all the time, ” she says.
Self-drive, dedication and resilience have pushed her to spend hours at the gym, not just for herself but to train other people through her initiative dubbed Eveal Health & Fitness.
She disclosed that the people she trains – the young, old and the sick – play a major role in her success: “Transforming people’s lives motivates me.”
Owala revealed to this writer that her next move is to hunt for a Pro Card, which was not allocated for the category she participated in.
“Once you compete in an IFBB competition you’re supposed to get a Pro Card, which enables you to compete with higher level athletes, in this case, I missed it by just a bit because it was not allocated for it [My category].”
The main challenge in the sport is funds, Owala says the industry has not received the recognition it deserves despite there being a Kenyan bodybuilders body.
“Right now I have to rely on sponsors and my pocket to support myself because right now I’ve not experienced any funding from the government, and if it existed I’ve not seen it, ” she added.
Owala now appeals to the ministry of sport to create more awareness of the sport to encourage many other people who might be interested in the sport but don’t know where to start.
“I would tell her [Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohammed] that this is a sport and that there are so many people down here who would want to be heard and it should be taken just like any other sport in the country,” Owala concluded.