Born in June 18, 1989 in Arua District to Abdu Baah Ariga Ali and Bona, national runner Ali Ngaimoko started as a footballer with the school football team at Arua Public.
Regarded as Uganda’s finest runner in the 100m and 200m, Ngaimoko, who painfully left the track at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games this year in a wheelchair after an injury, is fighting to be ready for the next season but also planning for his financial security.
As a teenager, he was spotted by West Moyo MP Tom Aza Alero, who was by then the headteacher of Nile High School, Arua while in Senior One.
When he finally agreed to run, he wanted to challenge the established stars such as Samalie Asiku, who is now a businessman, Fred Adra, an army man and Vasco Baku, who earns his living as a teacher.
He started out in the 100m race winning the post primary competitions held in Kumi District to select the regional team to the national games at Mandela National Stadium, Namboole.
It was during this time that King Joel became his first coach before Emmanuel Meta Aloro; his personal lawyer, started managing him.
“He was my manager in the sense that he brought the kits, helped me travel to championships as well as got me training programmes. He also took me to his house and made me like one of his own,” Ngaimoko recalls.
During the 2004 national championships at Namboole stadium, he ran both the 100m and 200m races struggling to upstage a field that included Steven Odwar, Martin Acira, Godfrey Akena and Rogers Onenchan.
But the struggle was not long. In 2006, he finally won and earned his place on the Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa (ANOCA) All-Africa Games in Nairobi, Kenya. It was a fairly good outing as he emerged fourth in the 200m race while he took the silver in 100 metres.
But he was just a rough diamond. Mildred Gamba, who was by then an established star noticed his flaws during the western championships in Masindi in 2009 and introduced him to Noah Ssenyondo, a teacher at International School of Uganda in Lubowa.
“He was my first true coach who made me start running,” Ngaimoko says. “I was using a lot of energy with poor tactics. Actually I one time vomited at Namboole after I poorly managed my race, which was my fastest.
In 2009, Ngaimoko was a semifinalist in Belgrade, Serbia in both the 100m and 200m races.
After analysing his races, Ssenyondo got Ngaimoko a new manager, G. Wiliad, a Frenchman, who was also a Nike agent and he started getting invites to European races.
“It not only opened for me opportunities to make money, it boosted my confidence too,” he says.
He says that his peak was in 2012 and 2013, a time he was invited to run in Accra, Ghana with the top eight from around the continent. When Ssenyondo went to Europe, where he currently stays, Ngaimoko remained with Paul Okello and Felix Wood Pakello
The entrepreneurial spirit
Aware of his humble background, Ngaimoko started thinking of something to do with the money he was earning.
“Poverty is an issue in Uganda whether one has ever gotten money and ran broke again or not,” Ngaimoko says.
“I started looking for options and I got inspiration from international athletes who run fashion lines using their fame as the selling point,” he notes.
That is when he started Lactic Sports Centre and housed it at Kibuli in a one-roomed rental on Mbogo Road.
Minting his first millions
But that was not how things started. For three years, his business existed as a briefcase company until the 2016 when he got a big deal to supply KCCA athletics team. “KCCA adored the quality of my kits and called me to supply sports kits and spikes. I had whatever they required but I had not registered the company,” he says.
This is when his lawyer got to work and registered the company, a process that took about two weeks. As soon as this was done, he made the delivery to KCCA, a sale that earned him Shs5 million his biggest then.
More orders kept flowing in and this year, when the kits from Nike delayed, the team travelling to the World Youth Games in Finland took an order from him. “That deal made me feel so happy because it was always my dream to be recognised. It made me honoured that our athletics body, UAF, could take me that seriously,” says Ngaimoko.
The business has given him a sense of satisfaction as it provides him with extra income to supplement his salary at the Uganda Police.
Starting out with Shs8 million as capital accrued from personal savings, the shop has grown with four employees and their families depending on it. “While growing up, there are athletes that were big and earning good money in Europe yet now they cannot even afford a kilo of sugar. In sports, old age and injuries are a reality. That is why I had to plan for life after sports while I still had time to be able to learn how the business runs.
He plans to put in an additional million shillings for marketing and promotions as he believes the sportswear industry in Uganda is growing steadily. His prices remain affordable with sneakers costing between Shs70,000 and Shs150,000 yet he has top of the range brands like Nike, Adidas and New Balance in stock. According to Ngaimoko, the sports clothing is seeing broad-based growth driven by increasing health awareness especially in urban areas.
This growth, he says, is being driven by female buyers and budding athletes.
“The reason is simple. Health consciousness and staying fit is a trend that is here to stay,” says Ngaimoko.
Widening the market
Ngaimoko, a father of three, with the oldest being Rama (eight years), has a wide perspective on sports calling it a big house with many rooms. It is the reason he watches several other games such as rugby, basketball, swimming, athletics and boxing. But that is also a strategy to reach out to more clients.
“Sports is about connections and these are helpful in widening the client base too because it is easier selling to your friends and they spread the message when satisfied,” says Ngaimoko.
He says getting the right quality at affordable costs is setting him apart.
He shares his success gained so far by dressing some of his fellow athletes.
Shida Leni and sprinter Godwin Byamukama are regularly clothed by his company for competitions. During the national championships at Namboole, he randomly rewards athletes that return good time wearing spikes or kits from his company.
“It is not when you have enough that you should give. I give when I spot good talent because most talents die because of lack of motivation and as you know, starting out is very tough,” he notes.
As a startup, it remains a huge challenge for him to pay taxes and still be able to meet his other obligations, but he employs a versatile manager Shaban Mahad, who ensures that orders are honoured in time.
“I am working on earning the trust of my clients. Being flexible with their demands is so important to the growth of the company but also making them happy remains a top priority,” he says.