Former sprinter now maintains university buildings

Frank Puriza (left) competing at a national athletics event at the Independence Stadium in 2013. Photo: Helge Schütz

Former Namibian champion sprinter Frank Puriza is an example of an athlete who used his running talent to secure a good international education.

In only his second year of running competitively, Puriza set a new Namibian boys’ under-17 record in the 400m under coach Lucky Gawanab of Unam Athletics Club.

“I ran a very fast time for a junior, clocking 47,57, which qualified me for the World Youth Championships in Sherbrooke, Canada,” Puriza says.

“At the World Youth Championships I finished fourth with another improved time of 46,72, which was another junior 400m record.

“I was the ranked second-best young athlete in Africa at the time. I was as good as most seniors in the 400m, and thus I got drafted to the national team.”

Scouting coaches contacted Puriza and lined him up with multiple scholarships upon his return from Canada.

He did not know which one to accept, and therefore consulted Frank Fredericks, who facilitated a scholarship for him at Brigham Young University in Utah in the United States.

“I knew that eventually I would come back home to Namibia, because I am the oldest son, and because my family is into cattle farming and I would eventually have to help out.

“So I decided to study a major which would assist my family back home.

“The first two years I studied architecture before switching to the more lucrative construction engineering. As I was entering my third year, my academics became very demanding, which led to me neglecting my sport,” Puriza says.

The speedster says he knew sport has a time cap, and he is glad he used it as a tool to obtain a free education.

Puriza describes Fredericks as his biggest role model, while mentioning athletics coaches Letu Hamhola and Gawanab as the people with the biggest influence on his career.

“When I started becoming good at athletics, my commitment to the track was greatly influenced by the respect I had for both my coaches,” he says.

“As I started winning races nationwide, the number of spectators who turned up to watch us compete turned into a great motivation to improve and to run world-class times.”

Puriza says he also played rugby at school, because it was compulsory to play rugby at Jan Mohr Secondary School.

“I went as far as the Craven Week in the under-15 category,” he says.

However, as he discovered his talent for running, Fredericks advised him to avoid contact sport and rather focus on running, he says.

“As to what characterised my running style, I would say I was more of an endurance runner, because I was designed to pick up speed later in the final stages of a race. Coach Gawanab just knew how to bring out the raw talent out of an athlete,” Puriza says.

“Gawanab believed more in plyometrics than gym workouts. Hence, he brought out my raw talent by having my teammates and I run a lot of 300m and 500m dashes, which prepared me well for the 400m sprint.”

Apart from World Youth Games in Canada, the retired sprinter also represented Namibia at the World Junior Championships in Italy, where he fell out in the semi-finals, the African Championships in Benin, the All-Africa Games in Algeria, the European circuits in 2013, and the African Championships in Mozambique.


Puriza has three children and recently got engaged.

He is currently employed at the Namibia University of Science and Technology (Nust) as the head of maintenance and infrastructure planning.

“I am heading the maintenance department for all the Nust campuses across Namibia. I am responsible for planning and building new Nust campuses. I have a very demanding job,” he says.

The former national champion says financial literacy is one of the biggest challenges people face in providing for their families.

“Being financially illiterate is one of the weaknesses of black families in Namibia. People do not live within their means.

“I have made it a challenge to myself to live a financially disciplined life. I live according to the following principal: a third of my earnings goes to savings, I live off another third, and the last third goes to family, charity or friends,” he says.

To keep fit Puriza runs five to seven kilometres every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday at around 04h00.

“My schedule has recently changed. I live a very well-balanced life, and recently I started spending my afternoons at Independence Stadium, assisting Lucky Gawanab with coaching,” he says.

“I live a life which is debt free. Sport paid for my education and exposed me to the world and many other cultures,” he says.

Puriza says one has to first have a concrete foundation before being able to help others.

“I am at the stage where I can assist others now,” he says.

Puriza boasts personal best times of 10,31 seconds for the 100m, 20,57 for the 200m, and 46,10 for the 400m.

His advice to young runners is to use sport to provide them with an education.

“No one can take away your degree,” he says.

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