Former leading sprinter now mining drill rig assistant

Francis Uatema (left) with Hitjivirue Kaanjuka, Adiel van Wyk and Gilbert Hainuca after the 4 x 200 dash at the Penn Relays in Philadelphia, United States, during which they set a new Namibian record in 2016. Photo: contributed

Swakop Striders Athletics Club star Francis Uatema may have missed out on the opportunity to represent his country at the prestigious World Athletics Championships and the Olympic Games but the Namibian sprinter has no regrets at all. In fact, the Otavi-born runner is happy that he realised his other dream to win the 400m dash at the Namibian Senior Athletics Championships.

“It is every young athlete’s dream to showcase their talent against the best athletes of the world and there can be no bigger stage than the World Athletics Championships and the Olympic Games but my failure to qualify for either of them does not give me sleepless nights at all.

“I am one person who doesn’t worry about myself because of things that I can’t change. It was also my wish to compete at the two biggest athletic events but on the other hand, I console myself with the fact I succeeded to become a national champion,” he says.

Uatema started running when he was in Grade 3, while still a junior at Narraville Primary School, after relocating with his family to Walvis Bay where he used to dominate the 80m and 100m dashes.

However, he was not yet ready for bigger events like the zonals and nationals.

“I struggled really badly against the other athletes at the nationals because I was not exposed to good coaching. I did not even bother to go to the nationals during my Grade 8 and 9 years at De Duine Secondary School.

That is until coach Belinda Oberholzer took him under her wing.

“Oberholzer was just a parent who trained her own children and she knew one or two things about athletics coaching. She saw potential in me and was adamant that she could improve me as a runner because I had the inborn talent to go far,” he says.

Namibian sprinter Francis Uatema with Jamaican superstar Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, two-time Olympic gold medallist and five-time world champion in the 100m. Photo: contributed

He had to walk from Narraville to Walvis Bay High School, where Oberholzer conducted training sessions every day after school and soon he started to see positive results.

By Grade 11, he was competing in the 400m race for boys under-17. He was also a member of the national team that participated in the Confederation of School Sport Associations of Southern Africa Championship in Harare, Zimbabwe, in 2013.

By the time he was in Grade 12, he was at his peak and winning some senior races at Swakopmund and Windhoek.

While running under the banner of the Swakop Striders Athletics Club and still only 18 years old, he won the 400m at the Senior Athletics Championships in Windhoek to become the top Namibian male athlete in his category in 2015.

He was also in the athletics teams that represented the country in a senior regional event in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe and the African Under-20 Championships in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in the same year, despite not making it past the heats.

“I continued to attract the interest of the role players in the athletics world and I was asked by the University of Pretoria to attend a two-week trial period at their campus as they wanted to offer me a scholarship to run for them,” he says.

“However, before I could realise that dream, the ministry of youth and sport came up with the more lucrative offer that would see me joining a group of boys and girls who could go study and train at the Caribbean island, which sounded like an opportunity of a lifetime.”

Uatema soon joined seven other Namibian youths to go train and study sports management at the University of Technology of Jamaica.

Uatema, who describes himself as hard working and someone with vision, unfortunately only lasted one year in the country after the programme failed to yield the required results, which was to qualify more athletes for the Rio Olympics.

Former sprinter Francis Uatema (right) with Beifang Mining Services drilling foreman Jekonia Mbengela at Husab Uranium Mine. Photo: Contributed

Under the programme, the Namibians trained alongside Jamaican superstars Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake, Asafa Powell and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, among others.

He soon had to return because they were told there was no money to fund their studies and upkeep.

He may have never appeared at one of the world’s biggest events but he is excited about having set a new national record in the 4×200, together with Hitjivirue Kaanjuka, Adiel van Wyk and Gilbert Hainuca at the Penn Relays in Philadelphia, United States (US) in 2016.

The Penn Relays is the oldest and largest track and field competition in the US, hosted annually since 1895 by the University of Pennsylvania at Franklin Field in Philadelphia. The event traditionally attracts some of the finest runners in the world.

The retired sprinter, who played football at both primary and secondary school, also excelled as a prolific striker. In fact, Uatema finished as top scorer of the Swakopmund Secondary School-hosted under-18 tournament, helping his school lift the trophy, during a feat that attracted the interest of premier league giants Blue Waters and Eleven Arrows.

“Football is fun to play, especially when you are a striker and you are in form and banging in the goals for fun. My speed came in very handy and I enjoyed myself really because I was super fit during my secondary school days but although I had friends who played for Blue Waters and Arrows at the time, I declined to join either of the two. Soccer is a contact sport and the possibility of picking up a serious injury was always there and I didn’t want to jeopardise my budding athletics career,” he says.

Although in a steady relationship, Uatema is not married yet and doesn’t have any children.

“I have been working as a drill rig assistant for Beifang Mining Services for over a year and four months now.”

The company is contracted to provide blasting and drilling services to the Husab Uranium Mine, located outside Swakopmund.

“My job is to assist the drill rig operator. I am always handy when he wants to set up or dismantle equipment. He is sitting inside the machine and cannot see much of what is going on on the outside. I am basically serving as his eyes on the ground,” he says.

To stay up to date, Uatema recently finished a drill rig machine course with Skillset Namibia, he says.

He advises young runners to work hard and to stay focused on their goals.

“Don’t focus on people telling you you can’t do something you really want to do. We as people, tend to listen to outside voices and negativity too much, and that derails our ambition to succeed.”

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