Life & Work

Tennis addicts: Corporate veterans share their fitness journey

Mary Wachira and partner

Mary Wachira (right) and her Doubles partner Nancy Nduku after a game at Nairobi Club. PHOTO | POOL

The sedentary life that came with climbing up the corporate ladder saw Timothy Omenda balloon to an astounding 125 kilogrammes. He only worked on his finances.

His body, however bore the brunt of it. His insurance provider threatened to cancel his cover if he continued on the same trajectory citing high risks. He took matters into his own hands, discontinued the policy and hit the gym.

For Mary Wachira, a Sunday afternoon out with her family led to a major discovery – tennis.

“We saw children playing tennis and I thought it would be interesting for us to get into it as a family,” Mrs Wachira says of the sport she’s grown to love. On Sunday afternoons for the next few years, the Wachiras would go to church, out for lunch and then on to the courts at Public Service Club for tennis.

Mr Omenda didn’t need the insurer to tell him he needed to make some lifestyle changes.

“I could feel the effects (of his weight) health wise and had to take Panadol in the afternoon to deal with the headaches,” he says of the effects of the girth he was slowly building.

In 2009 and in the following year, he found that the gym was not working as he’d have liked. He’d always watched, or rather heard, of Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras, the American tennis greats and decided it wouldn’t hurt at all to join the yellow-balled sport.

Tom Omenda

Tom Omenda during his training session on November 9,2022. PHOTO | SILA KIPLAGAT | NMG

Across the road from where Mrs Wachira had made a similar discovery six or so years earlier, Mr Omenda had his first encounter with tennis at Nairobi Club.

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He was hooked from the start.

There were more than enough players for Mrs Wachira to compete with. She got a coach for the children and she and her husband, when not standing across the net from each other, joined a closely knit tennis circle of tennis enthusiasts.

She couldn’t have it all her own way though. Her family didn’t share her passion for tennis – at least the playing part. Mr Wachira moved into golf and was soon followed by the children, the elder of the two choosing basketball, the younger chose the pool. She however stayed on and is still playing the sport religiously to date.

“I’m now trying to get my grandchildren to play tennis,” says Mrs Wachira who is up to her old tricks. This time, she hopes her grandchildren can grow into the sport their parents gave up.

Mary Wachira

Mary Wachira 60 during her training session at Nairobi Club on September 2019. PHOTO | SILA KIPLAGAT | NMG

Mr Omenda and Mrs Wachira’s paths have since crossed. They now play together at Nairobi Club. Every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, they join a group of their fellow veteran players at the club.

When everybody else has left the club, this core group can be found under the floodlights on Centre Court till late. They have been known to stretch their sessions to midnight!

“Until I’ve played for four hours, I don’t feel like I’ve done much,” Mr Omenda says.

His days at 125kgs are long gone, he says primarily due to tennis. His doctor will however be happier if he can shed a few more kilos.

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Mrs Wachira just turned 60. She looks hardly a day over 45. She credits tennis with being partly responsible for keeping her in great shape. When not on court and not tending to her businesses, she’s dancing salsa, playing golf or organising the neighbourhood women for runs and walks – for the slower ones – in the gated community where she lives. She’s also picked up other activities along the way.

“Ten years ago, the hype of zumba hit and I got on that too,” she says. The dance craze occupies her Thursday evenings.

On top of tennis, Mr Omenda has picked up swimming and hiking. The latter almost cost him his life when an unqualified guide led him and his troupe down the wrong path on the hills of Elementaita.

“We were literally crawling on our backsides for fear of rocks giving way,” he says.

A few of his friends haven’t gone back to the trail since. He can be found trekking up the slopes of the Sleeping Warrior on Elementaita as well as the affectionately named Ugali and Saucer hills there or in Ngong Hills. He has to hike at least once a month and is a proud part of the fast movers on any trek – aptly known as the Subaru team.

Both admit an “addiction” to tennis.

Mr Omenda reveals, “My wife calls it my first love!” Even with aches and pains that come with his 53 year old frame, he’ll find himself driving to Nairobi Club “to play for one hour” but inevitably stays on court longer.

Mrs Wachira says, “I have a strict schedule when it comes to tennis and have kept it all these years!” She can move her other activities around, just not the chosen one.

Mr Omenda, a Nairobi businessman, laughs at owning comparatively more tennis shoes than any other kind. Mrs Wachira’s golf handicap has suffered as a result, a fact she’s okay with.

Of fondest memories in the sport, Mr Omenda shares a photo of him atop a podium, his victims a step lower on either side. He is a proud Kenya Open Men’s Champion despite not being sure of the year he won it. He puts it at either 2017 or 2018.

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Mrs Wachira’s proudest moment in tennis goes back to 2005. “I was awarded the ‘Just For Love’ prize by Tennis Kenya for my passion for the game. It felt good to be appreciated for what I have been doing in tennis,” she recalls.

Back then, Mr Omenda knew tennis was having a positive effect on his health when he stopped taking his mandatory Panadols for headaches every day. He confesses he would like to see more veterans’ competitions in the country and challenges organisers to oblige this request.

Mrs Wachira’s current headache is her quest for a Doubles partner for the upcoming World Tennis Tour Ladies event. She prefers the partner be “not too young.” In her experience, the younger ones don’t know how to have fun (they only want to win) which for her is the most important part.

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