Swimming fraternity lose learners' champion in Zamzam

Coach Zamzam was always a prominent figure at swimming events. PHOTO/COURTSEY 

What you need to know:

Zamzam was survived by two children Shafique and Aminah and was married to her husband Moses Abdul-Lateef, a businessman and proprietor of Seweco Industrial Coatings Limited, for 26 years before she departed.

The swimming fraternity was shaken to the core by the death of coach Zamzam Khalil Abdul-Lateef that occured on Thursday last week.

The coach who was a trusted ally of many succumbed to a short spell of "pneumonia and throat fungi" according to her workmate Tonnie Kasujja.

"I cannot say for sure that she picked the illness from the pool because it has been very hot lately," Kasujja said confirming that she was initially taken to Norvik Hospital on Sunday, February 26 after she complained of chest pain during the second day of the first round of the Uganda Swimming Federation (USF) League.

On Monday, she was discharged in the morning but her relief was shortlived as she needed to be rushed to Sayidina Abubakar, from where she was referred to Mengo Hospital where her ailments were confirmed.

She was again discharged but asked to report back on Tuesday, which she did. She worsened on Thursday before sunrise and was rushed to Kampala International Hospital, where she passed on at around 8am.

Passion and motivation 

Coach Zamzam as she was popularly known in the swimming fraternity usually worked with children learning how to swim.

That is where she felt at home and useful - getting them fall in love with the sport and then passing them on to her colleagues, especially Kasujja and Muzafaru Muwanguzi with whom she worked with at Aga Khan and Dolphins from 2007 before the latter left them to start Gators, to turn them into competitive swimmers.

"She initially started as an assistant to staff members but when we wanted someone who would nurture young children, Zamzam was the right fit," Kasujja, who is also the vice president technical of USF, shared.

"She had the motivation because she always brought us new swimmers and her passion for teaching young children what to do is unmatched."

She was the mother at the pool. When parents got sucked into the adrenaline of competition, Zamzam worked in the background feeding everyone and cleaning up to ensure the children did not misplace their belongings

During her burial at the Bombo Muslim Cemetery, Muwanguzi described her as "my mother, someone I listened to a lot even for professional advice even when I introduced her to the sport." 

In the bitter split between the Dolphins, she remained the connection. But Muwanguzi remembers that in their last interaction at Aga Khan - just over a week before her demise, she was overly happy to see him.

"Maybe she was saying goodbye," he now thinks.

She was also the central piece that connected most clubs. Very many swimmers started their swimming life in her palms and then chose which clubs, most times with her advice, to go to.

"You can tell a child coached by Zam by how neatly they pack their (swim) bags.

Those who did not attend her class almost don't care about being organised," swim parents Florence Nakakawa and Lillian Mpabulungi, who have swimmers in their homes in both categories, shared.

When he learnt of her death, Mpabulungi's son Ethan Ssengoba composed a poem in which he said she "gave life to our swimming."

"Your hands wide open at the start.  
You gave life when the water was deep 
The long pool made short at the stretch of your hand. 
Your smile, hug and warmth made us winners and live again," part of the two stanza poem read.

Mubarak Ssemanda also started his coaching career, on Zamzam's recommendation, at Dolphins but when he started Starling, she offered unwavering support - just as she did for many other coaches.

Family woman 

Zamzam was survived by two children Shafique and Aminah and was married to her husband Moses Abdul-Lateef, a businessman and proprietor of Seweco Industrial Coatings Limited, for 26 years before she departed.

"I am short of words because I have lost a friend. After all those years, she was no longer just a wife but a confidant," Abdul-Lateef, who did well to remain strong in the face of inconsolable children during burial, shared with Daily Monitor.

At a personal level, I found Zamzam very welcoming at the pool from our first interactions in 2014. She was always eager to share insight into the development of swimmers.

Seven years later, I invited her as a guest to my wedding only to learn on D-day that her husband is an uncle to my new wife - a pleasant surprise to both all of us. This is not about me but coincidentally Coach Zam, as I always called her, shares a name with my late mother and one year old daughter.

Her family, workmates, colleagues and swimmers will miss a mother - each in a different way! Rest in Peace Coach Zam!