It was at Kisubi Beach in 2014 that renowned trainer Jim Flood declared that Uganda had the potential to become a top rowing nation.
At the same function - the inaugural East and Central Africa Club Championships that were meant to launch Uganda as a regional powerhouse - Flood’s words were backed by then Uganda Olympic Committee (UOC) president William Blick calling rowing a “niche sport for Uganda.”
Blick’s prophesy that Uganda would qualify rowers to the Olympics came to pass when Kathleen Noble made the mark for Tokyo 2020.
But if anything, Uganda’s attachment to Noble’s Olympic story would somewhat be characterized in the line self-made, you just affiliated in Rick Ross’ song Blowing Money Fast.
Much of what was said in Kisubi was hardly implemented and the regional regatta has never had another edition. The sport has survived with minimal activity if any but Noble’s feat awakened enthusiasm back home prompting some clubs to return their athletes to competitions.
On Saturday, 45 male and female athletes including one para-rowers Amir Kapere from five clubs turned up at Kisubi Beach to compete at the Maroons Invitational Indoor Championships, where they rowed over different distances - on simulation machines known as ergometers - in their age groups U-15, U-19 and open.
What the rowing community has been missing for years is athletes' activities. Today, some of their clubs (Maroons, UPDF, Kampala, Kisubi Pirates and River Nile) are trying to revive some of that through the Maroons Indoor Invitational Championship at Kisubi Beach pic.twitter.com/eSvf6m0A2S— Makhtum Muziransa (@shamuzmac) October 9, 2021
Sadly, the waters that hosted some of them in 2014 harbour a large water hyacinth where the boats used to dock - an indication of the lack of the activity.
But the enthusiasm was unmistakable as one of the rowers said; “this is what we have been missing,” as the rowers from different clubs cheered on their teammates in the first event of the day - the 2000m open category.
The target was to simulate the given distances in the fastest time possible with $100 (about Shs370,000) at stake for the men that hit the 2000m in under seven minutes and women who manage the feat in under 7:40 minutes.
Maroons Aqua Sports Club duo of Boniface Okello (6:49.1) and Godfrey Chan Wengo (6:52.0) managed to cash in while Kisubi Pirates’ Juma Aly Kasirye (7:08.3) came agonizingly close.
Those that had podium finishes in the 2000m, 1000m and 500m events in the three; U-15, U-19 and open categories were also with Shs30,000 (gold), Shs25,000 (silver) and Shs15,000 (bronze).
“It was challenging, we have not trained for years,” Haron Adoli (7:10.02) of Maroons said after he went toe to toe with Kampala Rowing Club’s Moses Banalekaki (7:24.3) and Michael Obote (8:15.6) from Kisubi Pirates in the 2000m open endurance test.
“It was also my first time in competition and I hope that with more and more training, I can get better.”
There is now a challenge to maintain this momentum. However, Noble, who is currently running a fundraising drive for $5,000 (about Shs17m) on the GoFundMe platform, is expected to jet into the country later in the year to run some rowing clinics and equip clubs.