Decorated volleyball star has decided to call time on her international glittering career. Isaac swila spent time with the woman who ruled African volleyball for two decades, lighting up courts with intelligence, beauty, grace, infectious charm and power.
She is known for her love for the fine things that life has to offer. From fine wine, a rigorous training regime and lovely interior décor, Janet Mungai Wanja is a soul who lives her life to the fullest, and the way she wants it.
A visit to her Clayworks residence at Kasarani immediately ushers you into her world. The many medals she has won in different competitions across the globe decorate the walls of her living room; most of them attained at either club or national level.
Interestingly, it is the same verve and energy that characterises her social life that she extends to the volleyball court where she has been a towering figure over the last two decades.
But for her, the success on the court didn’t come easy — it was an a culmination of hard work over the ages which has made her a Kenya volleyball icon.
Add that to fact that she has travelled across the globe playing the game she so loves then you understand why at just 33, she has achieved what many may never attain in their lifetime.
It is based on these accomplishments and the fact that she is still at her prime that the sporting fraternity were thrown in shock when news of her retirement from the national women volleyball team, the Malkia Strikers, filtered through disturbing the peace of Nairobi on a rather cloudy and dull Tuesday evening.
Dropping the bombshell upon arrival at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport from Tunisia where she and Kenya Pipeline teammates had participated in the women’s African Club Championship, where they finished fourth, Wanja said that time was of essence, hence the need to call time on her national career.
“I think the hour is now. This is something I have toyed with for some time, and it’s time to hand over the baton to the next generation.”
However, to those who know Wanja closely, her exit from Malkia Strikers had long been seen coming, and it was just a matter of when.
For some time, she has had an icy relationship with the powers that be at the national women volleyball team leading to her being branded “a dissent”.
In an interview with this writer last year, Wanja alluded to her looming exit from the national stage but not many knew that it would come so soon, and not after a continental club championship where she starred in her setting role.
Her decision to exit, she says, is after long reflections she has made since December 2015, when alongside Brackcides Agala, they were controversially dropped out of the Malkia Strikers ahead of the Rio 2016 games, only to be reinstated after a public outcry.
“What pains is the way they (federation) chase away players who serve them for a long time. My captain Blacke (Brackcides) Agala and I have been dropped from the national team for reasons best known to the federation...” she wrote on her Facebook page in December 2015, shortly after being purged from the team.
Fast forward, Wanja maintains she has played her part and the onus is on the young crop of players whom she says must work their socks off to earn their positions.
“This has been a tough journey, but I thank God for the great talent he gave me.
As for my family, friends and fans, thanks so much for the never ending support you’ve given me all through my career. I also want to wish Malkia strikers the best in the future,” she said.
For two decades she was in the team, Wanja not only ruled the Kenyan volleyball court like a colossus, but also pursued the game she loved with the finesse of a dedicated athlete. Indeed she has achieved her dream, a drema she set her eyes on when she first announced her arrival onto the national stage as a 17-year-old beauty queen.
“I feel happy because I have achieved what I wanted at national level. I still have the gas to continue, and I hope for better tidings with my club,” the second born in family of five told The Nairobian.
Looking back at her national career, critics and admirers alike will agree to the fact that the slim framed volleyballer was not only a great servant to the game, but a fierce defender of the flag too.
Her unwavering commitment and distinguished service to the nation will only be written in the Kenya’s sports books, if and when it ever happens but above all, she leaves behind a rich legacy and huge shoe to fill for upcoming volleyballers.