Adhiambo makes it big in administration after dropping racket

National Olympic Committee of Kenya (NOC-K) programmes officer Susan Adhiambo gestures during an interview at Amani Gardens in Nairobi on September 11, 2020. 

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Rare course  Russian-trained official wants more universities to teach sports administration
  • At 30, Adhiambo fits into big shoes of NOC-K administrator
  • Her dream was to become a professional tennis player, but switched gears and is now a policy maker

Susan Adhiambo is not your ordinary lady in Nairobi.

At 30, she has risen swiftly to become the first National Olympic Committee of Kenya (NOC-K) programmes officer. This is no mean feat, first by virtue of being a female and, second, being the youngest policy maker in the 64-year-old organisation.

Susan, or “Sue” as she is commonly known, said the stars in the universe have always aligned in her favour.

While still in college at Moi University between 2009 and 2012, Adhiambo developed a good rapport with Tennis Kenya when she frequently attended Kenya Open tournaments. She competed in some events but never got past the first round.

National Olympic Committee of Kenya (NOC-K) programmes officer Susan Adhiambo during an interview at Amani Gardens in Nairobi on September 11, 2020. 

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

Adhiambo persistently travelled to Nairobi for tournaments and took a bus back to college thereafter. It is when the then administrator at Tennis Kenya noticed her drive and offered her an administrative assistant’s position  before her graduation in 2012.  She did know that the role was preparing her for a future in sports administration.   

Three months later in January 2013, Adhiambo was promoted to the position of Tennis Kenya administrator after her boss’s unexpected leave. Adhiambo used the chance to sharpen her skills. For three straight years, she juggled between tournaments within and outside Kenya, operational plans and formal events.

Russian university

Naturally, she experienced burnout. Adhiambo decided to step down and take up a less demanding post as events manager.

In 2017, while working as events manager at Tennis Kenya, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) got into a memorandum of understanding with the Russia International Olympic University to recommend students for a Masters course in sports administration. The university was set up  in honour of the Olympic Games.

The sports administration course, which still runs to date, was created to teach and create more awareness on the Olympics.

“I applied for the course half-heartedly knowing I couldn’t get the scholarship since I was competing against at least 200 other ITF affiliate applicants whom I assumed were better than me.  But I was lucky, and around June of the same year, I got my calling letter. I learnt that I had been recommended by the ITF. Since the inception of the programme, I became the first ever applicant to be recommended by the ITF.  That still gives me chills today,” Adhiambo said.

National Olympic Committee of Kenya (NOC-K) programmes officer Susan Adhiambo during an interview at Amani Gardens in Nairobi on September 11, 2020. 

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

Born and raised in Nakuru, Adhiambo is an alumnus of Moi University where she attained a Bachelor’s degree in Public Relations and Communications.

Adhiambo, who had an ordinary childhood, had a zeal for sports. She had tried her hand in drama and music, but her heart always led her to sports.

“It’s funny how I ended up being an administrator. All along I saw myself as an athlete in the field and not behind a desk making policies,” she said.

Adhiambo said important as it is, sports administration is a rare course in the country’s institutions of higher learning.

“In Kenya, only Kenyatta University and the University of Nairobi offer the course,” she said.

While at St. Mary’s Girls Primary School, Adhiambo’s dream was to become a professional tennis player.

“One of my fondest memories was when the then national cricket team that included some of the greats like Collins Obuya, Tom Chacko and Joseph Sui came to train us. I learned cricket very quickly. That is when I saw the possibility of taking up sports as a career,”  Adhiambo said.

In 2004, she joined Butere Girls High School and took up tennis. While in third year at Moi University,  Adhiambo got her national team call-up as the youngest player. And its at the Rift Valley Sports Club in Nakuru that she got the much-needed exposure during the holidays.

Motivation

“In my last year of high school, I competed in an invitational tournament at the sports club and I finished third. I got a trophy and my name was written on the school’s notice board. This was one of my major motivations to play tennis at a higher level,” Adhiambo said.

While at Moi University, Adhiambo temporarily moved to Nairobi to live with a relative as she planned to jump start her aspirations of playing professional tennis. It was when the harsh reality dawned on her that becoming a professional player was expensive.  

Fast forward. In the 10-month period she stayed at the Russia International Olympic University Adhiambo got four internships in some of the biggest events in Russia including the world festival of youth and sports where at least 20,000 youth participated and the Fifa World Cup.

Adhiambo also got a scholarship to attend an International Events management Certificate exchange programme at the University of South Paris for three months in 2018.

She then returned to Tennis Kenya as the executive officer for a year when she heard about the position at NOC-K. After rigorous interviews, Adhiambo got her big break when she landed the NOC-K job mid-last year.

The rising star said that apart for her mother who worked diligently as a postal officer for over 30 years, she also looks up to NOC-K secretary general Francis Mutuku and Tennis Kenya secretary general Wanjii Karani  as role models because of their impeccable work ethic. 

Apart from creating policies for sports, Adhiambo also creates Olympic sports value programmes.

lnatiom@ke.nationmedia.com