Konye wa Njoroge
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Konye wa Njoroge: Rugby super fan who has travelled 353,286 kms around the world following Kenya’s Sevens rugby team

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Kenya Sevens fan Konye wa Njoroge shows off his replica jersey at the Estadio Cívitas Metropolitano in Madrid, Spain during the World Rugby Sevens Grand Final on June 1, 2024.

Photo credit: Pool

Kenya has had that select band of very special sports fans who never miss attending a match involving their beloved teams, come rain or shine.

Football claims its fair share. Just to pick a few. In the 1980s and 1990s there was an AFC Leopards supporter called Enos “Marola” Muhando who followed the team wherever they played, dressed in a white kanzu and brandishing a flag bearing the Ingwe logo. He would announce his presence in the stadium by rolling over and over on the ground to celebrate an Ingwe goal, hence his nickname.

Then there was one Isaac Juma, Kenya’s Harambee Stars unofficial “number one fan”. Every Harambee Stars home game from the 1990s to this decade would never miss Juma. Slight of built, shirtless and his entire body painted in the Kenya flag colours, Juma would perambulate around the ground gyrating to the ebbs and flow of the noise inside the football arena.

Older rugby fans may well remember then Nairobi University medical student Allan Gohole aka “Steel Pulse” in late 1980s, early 1990s and how he livened the stands with his electrifying lead-cheering for the popular varsity side, Mean Machine”.

University team

He rarely missed a Machine game despite the demands of his academic studies and his loud presence on the sideline must have won the university team many a match.

Latterly, rugby has another special fan, Konye wa Njoroge.

The 44-year-old, US-based medical doctor, officially known as Geoffrey Konye Njoroge, could easily own the tag of “Kenya Sevens foremost fan”.

Konye wa Njoroge

 Kenya Rugby Sevens fan Konye wa Njoroge (in green jersey) at the Estadio Cívitas Metropolitano in Madrid, Spain during the World Rugby Sevens Grand Final on June 1, 2024.

Photo credit: Pool

He has attended all their matches in the World Rugby Sevens Series since the resumption of world sports after the Covid-19 outbreak in 2020.

Images of a jovial Konye, singing and dancing with other supporters at the famous “Kenya Corner” at the World Rugby sevens' Grand Final at the magnificent Estadio Cívitas Metropolitano, home to La Liga giants Atletico Madrid last weekend as Shujaa booked their ticket to the elite World SVNS Series, captured the imagination of the rugby fraternity.

Konye is not hard to identify on the rugby stands. His replica Kenya jersey worn on the day has his name prominently emblazoned at the back, and his cheerleading instantly betrays his passion.

So how did this love affair with Kenya Sevens begin?

You have to first go back to his childhood.

Born in Nakuru in 1980, he grew up at Moi Flats just a stone throw away from Nakuru Athletics Club, a hot bed of rugby talent in the region. He attended Mama Ngina Primary School and then joined Menengai High School where he first played rugby.

Playing sevens rugby

“I would admire all those rugby players at Nakuru but I did not play much because of my size. But when I moved to Kansas in the USA after finishing Form Four in 1998 I experienced a growth spurt and when I was told that there was a group of Kenyans who played rugby I promptly joined them. Because of my pace, I started playing sevens rugby for the local team. In fact, there is a Kenya Exiles side composed of former players from Kenya many who I know. So it also became a social thing.”

Konye played for Wichita Barbarians from 2000-2009. Notable teammates included ex-Impala stars Richard Mulaha and Nick Olewe and former KCB talent Leslie Mango.

It is this group of Kenyans and their friends that would travel for tournaments in America.

Then when a World Series leg first came to the USA in 2004, at Dignity Health Sports Park, Carson, California, Konye and his fellow Kenyan rugger enthusiastically travelled to watch even though Shujaa did not play in this tournament.

Kenya Sevens did show up at Carson a year later and an impressive number of Kenyan supporters also showed up with Konye in the mix.

Safari Sevens

Shujaa were eliminated from the Cup competition in the group stages after beating Mexico 27-0 but losing 29-12 to France and 19-0 to Argentina. The team eventually reached the Bowl final losing 15-0 to Canada but the seeds of an undying commitment had been planted.

Konye loved the experience so much he started travelling to select World Sevens Series legs that Kenya was participating in.

He shares his impressions.

“Hong Kong has been the mother. Historically it has been a big event. I have experienced the vibes in Hong Kong. It is wild and crazy. You will never experience that in any other tournament.

“Dubai also comes close. Top rugby being played in the middle of the desert. Then my home tournament in Los Angeles. I have many friends in America, Europe and Kenya who come over and we enjoy rugby and have a big party in my house."

Despite being based in the US, Konye has also been coming for the Safari Sevens every year it is held

“Safari Sevens is one of our oldest tournaments. When I was a kid I always dreamed of one day attending the Safari Sevens. Having the opportunity to come back to the motherland to watch it is very refreshing. It is living my childhood dream. For certain I will attend this year.”

Remarkably, Konye has attended 17 world sevens tournaments scattered across the globe since the Covid-restrictions were lifted in 2022.

He is even known by name by the commentators of RugbyPassTV, the official World Rugby streaming service.

Konye travelled for the 2021/2022 non-Covid restricted Sevens Series legs (Malaga, Toulouse, London), all the 10 rounds (Hong Kong - held twice, Dubai, Cape Town, Hamilton, Sydney, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Singapore, Toulouse, London) of the 2022-2023 Series plus the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games rugby sevens, the three-leg Challenger Series in Dubai, Montevideo and Munich and the Grand Final in Madrid last weekend.

He was one of just seven Kenyans who attended the Challenger Series Montevideo round held at the 14,000-capacity Estadio Charrua in March.

An appreciative KRU gifted him two Kenya Sevens replica jerseys presented by team captain then Nelson Oyoo on February 25, last year in Los Angeles.

He logged in, by this writer's calculations, a cumulative round trip, from Los Angeles to the various world sevens' destinations and back, at least 353,286km of travel, the equivalent of circling the earth 8.8 times, or travelling to the moon.

Initially, that was never his plan.

Konye wa Njoroge

US-based Kenya Sevens fan Konye wa Njoroge (in green replica jersey) at the Estadio Cívitas Metropolitano in Madrid, Spain during the World Rugby Sevens Grand Final on June 1, 2024. 

Photo credit: Pool

"When Covid-19 restrictions were imposed in 2020 there was no rugby series action until 2022. I had been frustrated by the failure to travel due to the restrictions. I remember there was the Malaga Sevens where there were no fan restrictions.

“So I told myself ‘Malaga is in Spain, I have never been to Spain, it is post-Covid, I need to have something to do. Kenya are playing in Malaga’. So I decided to travel. I met a UK-based friend called, Evans Mbugua, in Spain, who played soccer but was a big sports fan. We had a great experience in Spain. And we kinda gelled.

“Then we asked ourselves, ‘can we do this again?’ So, we went to Toulouse, then we went to Twickenham and that is how it started, and it has never stopped. We have been to every tournament since then.”

It must cost a fortune travelling to far corners of the world.

Konye is unperturbed.

“I use my own resources. No one pays for my trip. I sponsor myself,” he says matter of factly.

A pause, then he offers. “Cost depends on how soon I plan a trip.”

“So how much do you spend?” the journalist persists

“Sometimes an all-round trip can cost $4,000 (about Sh525,445), sometimes it can cost $800 (Sh105,089), But at the end of the day I do not look at how much I have spent but the memories I have gathered.

“It is a good way of spending my money. I have learnt that I have to give myself my flowers when I am still alive.

“You can never buy time. Travelling to the places I love has proven to be one of the best ways to spend my resources. At the end of the day, money will get finished but the memories you create will last a lifetime.”

And how does he get the time to travel round the world? Ironically, the profession he chose has helped.

When he went to the Land of Dreams in 1999, he wanted to pursue a career in health.

He studied nursing at Newman University in Wichita then did a premedical course at Wichita State University before studying medicine at Medical School University of Kansas.

He now practices as a full time Emergency Medicine and Critical Care physician at Good Samaritan Hospital in downtown Los Angeles

“I am able to schedule myself. I work 14 shifts a month, that is, 14 days a month, so the rest of the 14 days I can choose whatever I want to do. So, I can plan my schedule around tournaments. For example, I have already planned for the Paris Olympic Games sevens tournament.

“I like the career that I have chosen and my colleagues at work can tolerate this kind of schedule.”

Then almost as an afterthought he says: “If you do not do the things you like doing you start suffering burnout. I balance my life. Travelling helps a lot.

He indeed had to balance his life. He got married in his mid twenties to an American girl but they separated soon after and he was left with their two toddlers. He somehow had to care for them while in medical school.

“I was doing my residency but had to raise them all by myself. I had no family members in America, just me and my friends.”

His eldest, a son, as graduated from high school while his daughter is starting senior high school. Konye says he also has another daughter in Kenya.

“I am a doctor. I do emergency medicine and critical care. If you meet me in the field I am just Konye the cheerleader, the rugby fan, and I am able to separate my roles. I am a father, I am a gym enthusiast, I have businesses.”

Raising funds

During the Covid lockdown he started a gym in his house and since then he says he works out everyday to get his day going.

"When I train I find my energy.”

It is this energy that Konye, who looks rather fit and athletic, with well-toned muscles, unleashes at the Kenya Corner, jumping, shouting, blowing a whistle and dancing the whole day as he urges Kenya Sevens on.

The travelling Konye has gone the extra mile of raising funds from amongst his circle of fellow fans to reward Shujaa players on tour.

He feels Kenya Rugby Union should do more to support the women’s game and is disappointed with the merchandising of Kenya kits by the union.

“I talk to KRU to get me replica jerseys. Unfortunately, Kenya Sevens merchandise is normally not readily available. It is always a squeeze trying to get some attire. Everybody wants a Kenya Sevens jersey but they are hardly available. Everybody loves wearing one and identifying with the team.”

He landed in Nairobi last week from Madrid then travelled to Kampala to watch the Kenya Legends versus Uganda Legends match on Saturday.

Next up? Back to his base in California for another interlude of normal life. On his X handle he describes himself as a “world traveller”.

The World Sevens Series and Kenya Sevens itinerary has given Konye, the ex-rugby winger, the wings to globe trot, and he is loving every bit of it.