The progress Latif Kajumbi has made in seven years of his competitive swimming life has been remarkable. His story from swimmer, to coach and now pool owner is as inspiring as they come.
Kajumbi, 35 now, learnt how to swim at the age of seven but only started swimming competitively in 2014 after a nudge from a one Brenda Nabiryo – a stranger at the time.
“I was swimming for fun one day and I bypassed her twice,” Kajumbi recollects.
“She stopped me and asked me to go see their team (at Ndejje University) and join them. I had finished school but I had never been to a competition even though I knew some national swimmers. I later promised to join them to keep fitness and the rest is history.”
It was at Ndejje that he met Erick Kisero, who would later in 2014 form Altona Swim Club.
Kajumbi turned up with Altona for some events and they took the senior age group (15 and over) by storm.
In 2017, he formed his own Kampala Aquatic Swim Club, which currently has up to 20 swimmers. In 2018, he was selected to represent the national team in the Cana Zone III Swimming Championships that Uganda dominated at Kampala International School of Uganda (Kisu).
“That is how I became a national swimmer too,” Kajumbi, who was now swimming as he groomed his own prodigies like national swimmer Rahmah Nakasule, added.
In 2019, he was among the national coaches alongside Simon Bahemuka, Erick Kisero and Muzafaru Muwanguzi as Uganda narrowly finished second behind Kenya at the Zone III event in Kasarani - Nairobi.
Last year, he surprised the fraternity when in the amidst of a lockdown, he shared photos of the swimming pool he is constructing in Natete. He calls it Aquatic Arena, Kampala, and harbours an ambitious long-term dream of opening more such centres across the country.
Kajumbi’s efforts are laudable in a country that has no aquatic home of its own and where construction of pools has been left to a few schools and hotels.
“It has actually been a journey of three years and we still have work to do. Our plans are big and many people laughed them off at the beginning but we thank God for how far we have come, we are 85 percent done,” Kajumbi tells SCORE.
Born out necessity
Kajumbi never set out to build his own pool but the more he worked with pool managers as a coach, the more he got frustrated with their work ethic - especially on rainy days and in the mornings.
“Club swimming is so strict that even when it rains, the kids will turn up. Even if the sessions are early in the morning before sunrise, the swimmers are going to turn up.
“But some of the guys who look after pools do not appreciate this. When it rains, that is a day off. Sometimes if you pay them to clean the pool for morning training, they won’t do it.
“So I reached a point where my goal was just to stop renting for the club. Even if the space I had fitted one lane, we would have gone with that.”
Fortunately for him, he was able to work his contacts and secure land in Natete. One step led to another and Muhammad Kalungi, a parent in the club, was willing to walk the tough journey with Kajumbi while engineer ‘Moscow’ Kasozi, from National Water and Sewerage Cooperation, was tasked with ensuring the pool is “strong and doesn’t leak.”
So far, on site is a 25m pool and adjacent to it is a mini 12.5m technique pool and a circular baby pool, that could act as an ice-bath during competitions.
The main pool can be divided into four lanes and is 2.2m deep in the deep end and 1m in the shallow.
The enclosure, which sits on almost half an acre, is also fitted with floodlights and stands that can accommodate 450 adults or up to 1,000 children.
But since these are not normal times, Kajumbi has re-adjusted to allow for social distancing, limiting the sitting area to accommodate 68 people.
The pool deck also houses a shower but there are also main washrooms.
During competitions – and they hope to host some soon – the pool deck can house a tent for technical officials while there is space next to the parking area for marshalling.
Next to the parking lot, which can accommodate about 10 cars, is space for a reception, kitchen, canteen and conference room.
However, Kajumbi plans in future to add a gym, sauna and steaming room, plus dormitories “for about 60 people to help us if we have to host the national team and coaches.”
The pool has been operational for about a year and hosts swimmers from all walks of life.
“We are open to the public and other clubs for most of the day. Club swimming is usually done in the morning and evening,” Kajumbi shares part of his plan to open up to the community and start a grassroots programme with mostly swimmers aged six and below.
Catering for swimmers’ interests
Although the ongoing construction means the underground filters and water pump are not yet fitted in the pump room, the pool is manually well maintained.
“With my experience from my very active years in the pool, I am able to tell what the swimmers feel before they even get in the pool. That is why our water is cleaned to a level where the treatment will not hurt your eyes,” he said.
“The markings are exact even in the smaller pool so that swimmers have no worries when graduating to the big pool.”
Kajumbi admits he is not sure how much he has invested in the project.
“Honestly, we do not know how much we have invested but we believe it is worth it. Everytime you get Shs1m or Shs10m, you invest it in whatever is lacking at the pool and we have done this for a while and we still have to continue, we cannot quantify.”
It might be hard for Kajumbi and Kalungi to quantify but they are surely setting up a legacy that will inspire others to construct pools.