Richard Njuki's big dream for Kenyan hockey team at African Games

Richard Njuki

Kenya and Western Jaguars hockey player Richard Njuki Wangánga trains at City Park Hockey Stadium on January 19, 2024. 

Photo credit: Sila Kiplagat | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Njuki played an influential role in Western Jaguars’ run to second-place finish in the KHU Premier League which ended on Sunday. 

Encouraged by rags-to-riches stories of some of the world’s biggest superstars who have risen from underpriviledged backgrounds to achieve success, Richard Njuki Wangánga who plays for Kenya Hockey Union Premier League team Western Jaguars is determined to rise from the rough and tumble of his upbringing in Mukuru Kwa Njenga slums in Nairobi to stardom.

The 23-year-old is part of the 18-man Kenya men’s team currently training at City Park Stadium in preparation for 2024 African Games (formerly All Africa Games) scheduled for March 8 to 23 in Accra, Ghana.

He was also in Kenya's men’s five-a-side team that finished seventh out of 15 teams in the 2024 International Hockey Federation (FIH) World Cup held in Muscat, Oman from January 28 to 30.

Njuki played an influential role in Western Jaguars’ run to second-place finish in the KHU Premier League which ended on Sunday. 

His circumstances in life mirror those of Mike Tyson who is one of the world’s greatest heavyweight boxers.

Tyson was born in 1966 in poverty-stricken neighbourhood of Brooklyn in New York and when he was two years old, his father abandoned the family and left Tyson’s mother to care for the family.

Tyson had been arrested more than 30 times by the time he was turning 13, and had been involved in many incidents of robbery. 

“I was seven years old when our family moved from Kinoo to Mukuru Kwa Njenga Slum in South B, Nairobi. My mum (Pauline Wambui) gave birth to Francis, Roselyne, Njambi and I at a young age and when the going got tough while we stayed in Kinoo, she separated from my dad," Njuki, 23, told Nation Sport.

"Life was hard, we would go without food for days,  and that was normal. We later moved in with my grandmother and relocated to Mukuru Kwa Njenga. I was enrolled at Mariakani Primary School,” he recounted.

“Ghetto ni ghetto tu (life in the slum is unpredictable).Nothing is guaranteed even life. Today there is electric power, tomorrow you wake up and the supply has been disconnected.

Richard Njuki

Top: Njuki trains with teammates at City Park Stadium on September 25, 2018 in ahead of 2018 Youth Olympic Games.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

"Today you are with your friend or even a neighbour and next you are told he or she has been shot dead. Crime and drugs are part of daily life. You are lucky if you survive, or if you choose the right path. Flowing water and toilets are luxuries,” he says.

From a young age, Njuki used football as an escape route, to take his mind away from drugs and crime.He says life could have easily taken a wrong path.

“I was a good football player at Mariakani Primary School in South B. In Class Four, I joined Kickers Football Academy in Embakasi. On weekends, I would walk to Embakasi on foot to attend training sessions because I could not raise fare. Life was hard, but the passion was there.

"Football took more of my time and of course of my peers who had already taken the wrong path. Playing football helped me stay sane. Across our school was Highway Secondary School, where members of  Wazalendo Hockey Club trained on weekdays every evening. Out of curiosity, I would walk to their training venue to see how hockey is played but I wasn’t interested in the game,” he recalls.

“In class seven, I moved to South B United Sports Academy (SUSA) from Kickers but I would still go to Highway to watch hockey after classes. While there one day, I overheard some people talk about Kenya Hockey Union having an academy at City Park Hockey Stadium where kids could train. They said that all one needed to do was to avail himself at the venue at the weekends. I thought of trying my hand in hockey. 

“At class Eight, I started attending hockey training sessions at HighWay Secondary School. It was hectic, and I didn’t even know how to hold a hockey stick, nor how to drag the ball.  

"I remember Wazalendo’s coach, James Omondi, taking me through the basics and it took a while but I eventually got it right. I juggled football and hockey  before finishing primary school education in 2014,”  the defender says.

Richard Njuki

Top: Njuki trains with teammates at City Park Stadium on September 25, 2018 in ahead of 2018 Youth Olympic Games.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Njuki thereafter chose hockey over football and began attending training sessions at City Park Hockey Stadium. He was drafted into the under-13 and under-14 teams and learnt the rules of the game. Free food offered to players at the facility after training sessions was an extra incentive.

“Kenya men’s five-aside team and Western Jaguars coach Michael Malungu, coach Meshack Senge, among others,  would train us. When KCPE results were out,  I had scored 321 marks out of 500, and I landed a scholarship at Musingu High School in Kakamega County alongside my fellow junior players Ian Olando and Elija Omok.

"Coach Malungu was impressed by us during training. When we joined Musingu in 2015, the school had not been performing well in hockey but two years later, we qualified for the national school Games held in Embu, where we won bronze medal and qualified for East Africa Secondary School Games that were held in Rwanda. We again won bronze medal in Rwanda,”Njuki, who is pursuing a diploma course in Electrical Engineering at Sigalagala Technical Institute in Kakamega, said.

Njuki says landing a scholarship at  Musingu Hich School was a blessing.

“I was away from home for almost four years due to busy school games calender.  During that period, one of my close friends who had taken to criminal activities was killed. Perhaps being away from home kept me out of trouble, and confined me to books. My family has since moved to Kariobangi South in Nairobi, which is better place than Mukuru Kwa Njenga, but I still visit the slums to encourage and give hope to youth,” says Njuki.

Njuki believes Kenya’s current squad has the potential to take the country back to its lost glory.

“After finishing school in 2018, I was named in Kenya’s squad for Africa Youth Games in Algeria. The same year, we competed in  Youth Games in Buenos Aires in Argentina. I later joined Wazalendo where I played till 2022 when moved to Western Jaguars.

“In 2021 soon after Covid-19 pandemic subsided,  I was called up to the senior national team for Test matches against Uganda in 2022 in Nairobi, then I made the team for the  Africa Cup of Nations in Ghana where we finished fourth.

"So far so good. Discipline, determination hard work, and my tough upbringing have taught me that patience and perseverance pays,” he added.

Njuki is optimistic Kenya can excel in five-a-side hockey.