Ali Ngaimoko is still nervous. For an athlete of his calibre, a return to action should be a glorified moment. Yet for the 31-year-old, a bundle of nerves keeps coming.
The past two years since he was stretchered off the Carrara Stadium during the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games with a torn hamstring, the natural act of running has been filled with so much doubt. But with the Coronavirus pandemic lockdown, he has gained enough rest to tackle the track at full throttle.
“I feel I have the strength and speed to produce good times. That’s where my mind is set. The break has been good for my body,” Ngaimoko says.
Probably the most talented sprinter of his generation, Ngaimoko initially torn his hamstring during the qualification to the Commonwealth Games. He missed the mark after dropping out of the heats as medics rushed to lane 7 to wheel away the grimacing Ngaimoko.
The punishing physical pain apart, Ngaimoko has dreaded the rehab which he calls lonely where the hardest part has been to deal with the negative perceptions.
“It is very disappointing that injuries come at a time when it matters after a long time of preparation. Some people actually say I am cowardising. But I always give my best and what hurts is that the injury happened with the finish line in sight,” the Police Club athlete says.
Ngaimoko has been undergoing rehabilitation at Ultima Trauma & Orthopaedic Centre in Nakasero while keeping his Lactic Sports Centre at Kibuli on its feet. He has also been involved in athlete empowerment projects under Tartan Burners Athletic Club (Tbac).
“Injuries are beyond any athlete’s control but you have to be man enough to accept any outcome and move on. Knowing my quality and what I can achieve has made it easier to work harder to come back.”
Ngaimoko’s injury first manifested during the 2012 African Championships in Benin. When he thought he had recovered, it came back to haunt him during circuits in Europe forcing him into a three- year lull before the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
The line of progress has not been direct. Last June, he made a comeback making the cut but missed the final team to the Africa Seniors in South Africa.
“With a torn hamstring you need to make responsible decisions that won’t hurt you or cause any more harm. Although I felt well, the doctors advised me against going so quickly. So, I called off the season.”
New pains popped up so often during training but with the help of Paul Okello he is building fitness, brick by brick. His dream is the Olympics. “Olympics is the measure for any athlete. I am working for this honour. Getting back to the elite level is the first target. I can’t guarantee I am fully okay but I am ready,” he says adding that he will now concentrate on 100m and 200m races.
While he was obviously out of the picture for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Ngaimoko can see the silver lining in the postponement of the Games.
“My preps were poor but now I have another opportunity.” His closest to qualifying to the Olympics was in 2012 where he missed the mark by 1.8secs. When President Museveni imposed a lockdown in late March, it left Ngaimoko to train from his home gym. “I was doing strength exercises for health purposes, ” he says.