Last updated 2 months ago | By Washington Onyango
Betsy Ommala’s life is a treasure trove of hockey memories.
Leonardo Da Vinci once said: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Life is full of complexities, yet, success often derives from the simplest of acts.
For Ommala, that simple act is of scoring goals. Very few players get the chance to turn professional in their respective sports.
Fewer are the numbers that can match what Ommala has achieved during her 16 years of playing hockey.
In those years, the diminutive player has been to over 10 major finals, both locally and internationally.
She has also captained both club and national teams and signed a professional contract, a feat she hardly saw coming.
“Everything I have achieved is by the grace of God,” Ommala told the Standard Sports from her base in England.
“Hockey is my life. It has taken me to places I never imagined I would reach and therefore, one should never despise this sport.”
From playing in the Kenya Hockey Union (KHU) Premier League for record champions Blazers Hockey Club (formerly Telkom), Ommala has progressed to become one of Kenya’s finest hockey players.
After a seven-year playing stint in the premier league, her determination and ambition saw her play and captain the Kenya national hockey women’s team, which further opened a bigger door; an opportunity to play professional hockey in England for Slough Hockey Club in 2016.
As is with any epic tale, one must start from humble beginnings, which in this case for Ommala, was Mukumu, in Kakamega, where she was born in October 1989.
Born in a family of five (the younger of the firstborn twin), Ommala grew up with a passion for football and short distance running during her childhood years at Ndalu RC Primary School, in Bungoma County.
“In my primary school, the most common sports were netball, football and volleyball. I opted to play football and also took part in athletics,” said the 30-year-old striker.
Her journey in hockey began when she joined Western region hockey giants Mukumu Girls High School in 2003. Mukumu moulded her to be the player she is.
“When I was in Form Two, I was introduced to hockey by a senior student who told me to try it. My interest in the sport grew into something I could never have imagined before,” she said.
After completing high school in 2006, she was picked to join the Kenya national women’s hockey Under 21 team, but her parents couldn't allow her to go to Nairobi to play, saying she was still young to move from the village to the city.
“I was very angry and mad after I was denied the opportunity to expose my skills to the world. As a loyal child, I respected their decision, but did not give up on my dream of playing hockey after school,” she said.
“I went to Eldoret to do a Diploma course in Tourism Management for two years. Then an opportunity came for me to go to Nairobi after my graduation.”
In Nairobi, her dreams were actualized after she joined Vikings Hockey Club where she played for one year before signing for record Kenyan champions Telkom Hockey Club in 2009.
Two years later, she was named the club’s captain. She treasures this year the most because she guided Telkom to winning the Africa Hockey Club Championships in Zimbabwe.
“To lift the top trophy in Africa during my first season as captain was a privilege. It is one of the moments that I will always cherish.”
She also earned a call-up to the national team where she represented the country in the Olympics Qualifying games (2011) in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe where Kenya finished second behind South Africa.
She helped Telkom win the Africa Club Championship five times between 2011 and 2016 and captained the national team over the same period.
She was also instrumental in her club's success in the Kenya Hockey Union (KHU) Women’s Premier League, where they won six times.
In 2013, she was voted Women's Hockey Player of the Year at the Magharibi Michezo Awards before winning FIH World Hockey League 1 Best player award in 2014, in Nairobi.
Her breakthrough, however, came during her prime years in 2016, when she signed for England-based Slough Hockey Club in September.
Life in the United Kingdom was new to Ommala, with the English league being quite organised, skillful, fast and competitive.
She adapted fast and during her debut season, helped her club win the 2017 Super Six National Indoor League.
In 2018, Slough Hockey Club voted her as the 2017/2018 Player of the Season.
Ommala credits her success to Jane Nyamogo (Telkom Team Manager), Jos Openda (former Telkom coach), Rose Mbulo (former teammate) and Clyde Mbaha (Vikings coach).
To her, these people helped her to be a better player.
Ommala, who envies the late Betty Tioni and Mbulo, believes that if you want to play hockey at such a high level, one need to sharpen their basics skills.
To young and upcoming players hungry to join the national team, Ommala had nothing but kind words for them.
“Patience and hard work is the key to success. Everyone has his or her time, and when that time comes, grab it with both hands and perform beyond your expectations,” she said.
Her former coach Openda singled out Ommala as a determined player who is focused and is a good example to young players.
“Never give up in life because anything is possible. Young players should keep grinding hard and believing in themselves. Ommala is a good example to many other young players, who are hungry for success. Hard work and discipline is the key,” he said.
Off the pitch, Ommala is a wife and a mother of one.