Tons Of Talent. Mudoola orchestrates play and earns yardage for Uganda during a recent Test match. PHOTOS/JOHN BATANUDDE

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Mudoola: Small body, big brains

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Larger Than Life.  A story about Uganda women’s rugby cannot be complete without mention of the name Charlotte Mudoola. What she lacks in size, she has in the brain and that has seen her play at the highest level since making her debut for Uganda against Rwanda in 2003. She is one of just a handful of Ugandans to have featured at a World Cup having played for the Rugby Cranes in Dubai 2009. Nineteen years down the road, she is not ready to hang her boots and will keep pushing until her body tells her to stop. She sat down with Sunday Monitor’s Emanzi Ndyamuhaki to recount her journey.

How did you get into rugby and why?

Actually, my first sport was volleyball. Rugby came in later and I wasn’t really expecting myself to play it, I was in the school volleyball team (Mt. St. Mary’s Namagunga) but at that time, my brothers were so much into rugby. 
During the holidays, they would be watching rugby on TV and I couldn’t watch volleyball, it had to be rugby. I had no choice and no control of the remote, so I was forced to watch rugby. I wasn’t interested at all but after O’level, I went to Vienna College, continued with volleyball and football. I would play football with the boys until Martin Karugonjo said to me, ‘You are a Mudoola, you must have an idea on rugby.’ He asked me to join the school team and train with them. Because I had watched a bit of the game on television, I had learnt a bit of the rules already and everything came easy to me. They didn’t have to spend a lot of time teaching me. Eventually the interest came and I started enjoying it. I kept playing the other sports because there was no women’s league.

And how do you get to break through into mainstream rugby?

That was during my S.6 vacation. That’s when Timothy, my brother, told me about a lady called Helen Buteme and that they had started women’s rugby at Kyadondo. At that time, I was supposed to be playing volleyball but he convinced me to first try rugby and see.  When I reached Kyadondo and introduced myself to Helen, she told me she was expecting me. She made me feel at home, being the youngest player at the time. 

We started training and I already knew what to do. I immediately joined the national team and our first game was against Rwanda in 2003, the moment I started playing, I never looked back. I started playing for Thunderbirds and since then I have been playing rugby, the love for volleyball and other sports just stopped and I focussed on one sport. I was in Law School so I had to strike a balance and pick one sport.
It must have been tough having to balance books and rugby.
It was tough. I had to sacrifice some of the things. It was mainly class, rugby and back to school. I didn’t have so much time to do anything else.

How did your family and friends take the idea of you playing rugby?
Coming from a sports family, my parents were actually receptive. They were even supportive. They had no problem with me playing rugby.  Mum would even watch my games and at one time she was the vice chairperson on the women’s committee. 
The times I got fractures, they were willing to support throughout treatment and rehabilitation. For friends, most of them were sports people so they supported me and even made time to come and watch games. Some found the game rough and couldn’t believe that someone as small as myself could go up against big players. They respected me for the heart.

Your brothers, Fred and Timothy must have played a big role in your career.
They contributed so much when it came to the mental part. I would ask them a lot of questions and they really helped. They would get into my head and make me believe I can take on anyone and whenever I play, I try to execute as told not to disappoint them. I want to make them proud. I still consult them, especially Timothy.

 What is the reaction like from the outside world, when they get to know that you play rugby?
Most of them are like, “What! Do you play rugby? How? That game is rough, it is for big people.” But you explain to them in simple terms to understand that all sizes can actually play the game. I try to give them the values of the sport and what it instills in someone like team work and discipline. Most people who play rugby are like us; lawyers, doctors so it’s easy to associate the game with success.

Busy Bodies. Mudoola (2nd L) leads from the front for Black Pearls; either on the pitch or during dance routines. 

You have suffered many injuries. Which one worried you the most?

That was in 2013. We were playing Africa Sevens in Botswana and I dislocated my ankle and fractured the leg at the same time. They had started preparing me for surgery in Botswana and the doctors were like ‘we don’t think this girl will ever play again’ and that really scared me. 

We waited for a specialist who examined and said I didn’t actually require surgery. They put the foot back, placed me in a cast but they were still worried whether I would play again or be the same player I was. I reached a point where I had given up on myself but I got the support of my family and friends and then legendary Yayiro Kasasa volunteered to help me with rehabilitation. I had to start from scratch, walking, running and side-stepping. With that support, I told myself I had to play again. I later realised that when you suffer these serious injuries and come back, you can easily be a better player than you were before. That was the biggest injury for me but it motivated me to come back.

You played at the World Cup in 2009. How was it like to just qualify?
At that time, no one expected a Ugandan team to play at a World Cup. It was a mixture of being happy but also shocked. We couldn’t believe we had made it to the World Cup. The game we played against Tunisia in the semis of the qualifiers was the decisive one, they almost scored the winning try but their player started celebrating before placing the ball and the way we were determined, one of our players ran and tackled her and she dropped the ball. 

That gave us a chance to stay in the game and in the last minutes we scored the winning try through Christine Kizito. We worked for that winning try. It was a feeling of ‘yes, we have won. We have made it to the World Cup.’ We were all like ‘playing in the World Cup will sort itself out.’ We had to enjoy the moment and that is the best feeling I have had in my life. I had never felt like that before. It is hard to describe it. Every time I think about it, I just get emotional.

And playing at the World Cup itself, how was it like?
Honestly, I am not going to say I was disappointed with the performance because in our group we had teams like New Zealand and South Africa. We were playing serious rugby nations and we did the best we could. The fact that we went there and did our part was good enough. All we wanted was to perform and put Uganda out there, let everyone know that there is a country called Uganda and they can play rugby. That was our target, to go put in everything we had and not make it easy for the opponent and it’s what we did. We knew we were not going there to win the World Cup; we wanted to compete and leave the world stage saying ‘yes, we did our part.’

We have not gone back to that level since, what could be the problem?

The chances are there for us to go back to the World Cup. We just have to put in the effort as a country.  Personally, I feel that if the same attention to the men’s team is put in the women’s, Uganda can have two teams in the World Cup. 
With the limited attention, we are still managing to go and remain in the top four, at some point we were number two in Africa and even went for the Hong Kong Sevens. Imagine we had the same preparations as the men; with camps, playing more tournaments, it could even be across the border against our neighbours Kenya. 
If we start preparing early for tournaments, I believe we have a chance of returning to the World Cup.

Do you feel let down and ignored by Uganda Rugby Union?

It is disappointing. URU need to give us that push. It doesn’t even have to be the same as what the men get but at least something small. When Kenya put in the effort, their women’s team improved and you can see what they are doing. They have been to the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics, World Cup and are number two in Africa. Why can’t we copy from that? Anyway, some of us are not giving up and we continue to put in the work and try to do the best for our country.

You can’t talk about Uganda Women’s rugby and miss the name Christine Kizito, how big was she for women’s rugby?
She contributed a lot. She did a lot for the development side for the girls especially at Kyadondo.  Not just the girls actually, even the boys. She would go with the boys as a coach to those tours in the United Kingdom.
She was a big asset and an inspiration to most of the girls who played. She was big but also very mobile. She could just bulldoze through opponents like crazy.

Helen Buteme is the other big name. Hhow important has she been in your career?
She has played a big role. When we came back from the World Cup, we realised rugby is not just about running, you have to have some body mass and be well conditioned. That motivated her to go and do a Strength and Conditioning course and she started working with me immediately. 
She would do gym sessions with me and I was basically her first project in strength and conditioning. We would work out together in the gym when she was still a player and up to now, she is still my S&C coach. She has contributed majorly in my career.

Tell us about those games against neighbours Kenya, how was it like to play them?
Back then, we would discipline Kenya seriously. The rivalry was serious and we would go there and be like, we have to work hard and beat them. Losing to them was like a taboo back then but then their union decided to put in the effort. That came at a time we were sort of going down and they surpassed us as we just went down. Now, we are just trying to catch up and we seem to be stagnant yet for them they keep going up. 
I just hope we actually get to catch up because now teams like Madagascar are also coming up, they are paying more attention to their women’s team, same as Tunisia. URU will have to style up and ensure we are not left behind. We were a force to reckon with but teams are not scared of us anymore. We must put in effort to make sure we don’t go back and collapse as a team.

What is your take on the quality of players we have now?
I believe we have the most talented players. These kids have a lot to offer; the talent is there and what we lack is the support. At the end of the day, preparation will always be a factor in the team’s performance. 
You might have a very talented team but if you have not prepared well, not played enough competitions to help you make decisions, you might not go far. I will give you an example of Sevens because I love sevens, there are those split-second decisions you need to make and all that comes with continuous competitions, more games and playing against competitive sides. We have a lot of talent; it is just the level of preparedness and the effort put in to ensure these players are exposed enough.

What do you make of the state of women’s club rugby?
I think it all goes down to funding. Even the men’s teams are struggling to get sponsorship so it is even tougher for the women. Take an example of Mbale, who are in the league but struggling to make it to away games because of funding. There are teams all over Uganda but the issue is lack of funding. I wish it could be more competitive but that can’t happen under the circumstances. The Union had tried to ensure that these top clubs have women’s sides but it looks like that hasn’t worked. That would have been a good start.

Do you plan to retire soon?
My retirement will come as a surprise because right now I still feel that I can still play and compete with the younger players. I also see that we have a lot of talent but these players still need someone to mentor them on pitch. I still have a lot to teach them and playing with them gives me the chance to show them a few things here and there. They are learning from me and if I am to retire and jump into coaching, that will make it easy since they will be looking at someone they have played with before. Right now, retirement is not in the books. I can’t tell when I will retire, when it happens it will happen. The body is still talking to me and it says I can still play.

At the end of your career, you will have options, which one do you prefer, coaching or administration?
Coaching will be the best option for me. I don’t like being in administration making boardroom decisions yet I can be on ground with the players and showing them what to do. Coaching is the most realistic direction for me and that’s what I will be looking at.

What is your fondest memory in rugby?
Making it to the World Cup and actually playing there. Nothing can take that away.

And the worst memory?
There are many. You cry, get mad and come back to play. It is mostly the Rugby Africa Sevens where we just missed qualification by one position. It was mostly about the little time we put in to prepare and not because we played badly. Those moments were disappointing and made me feel like quitting.

Inspiration. Big brother Timothy is one of Charlotte’s role models. 
 

What do you want to be remembered for after retirement?
I want people to remember me as a rugby player who put everything she had into the sport, especially women’s rugby.  Someone who worked hard and played with heart. Someone who was humble and willing to learn.

What others say about Charlotte Mudoola  
Helen Buteme (Former teammate and coach)
She has a passion for rugby - she truly loves the game. She is willing to put in the hard work. I have been giving her S & C programmes for years now and she follows them faithfully, she can spend an hour at home practicing her goal kicks. 
She has a willingness to learn (she’s not a know-it-all). She is exceptional in kicking for goal (place kicks), turning over the ball at the rucks (she has the highest turn over count in women’s rugby) has the ability to pop up in support anywhere around the pitch.
Timothy Mudoola (Brother and former Rugby Cranes star)
Resilience, hard work and the never-give-up attitude and commitment have kept Charlotte at the top for this long. She is willing to learn every day, many people see her as a superstar and a person who has done it all but even up to today, she will listen to anyone. She will not brush aside any advice. She puts in extra work on her own, she has a very demanding job but she will get back home, change and go for a run or to the gym. She tries to work three times harder than the players younger than her and that has kept her at the top. 
Her kicking is great because of her soccer skills from the past, she works on her pass a lot. She sometimes asks me to be home and help her work on a few basics, I can just stand there and she passes to me as many times as possible. The only thing that will stop Charlotte from playing is herself, if she decides that enough is enough.
Winnie Atyang (Lady Rugby Cranes teammate)
Charlotte loves to be on a winning side and doesn’t give up. She has had some serious injuries but managed to bounce back and still play well. She is also a very disciplined person and you will not get complaints about her.
I remember the World Cup Qualifiers we played in 2008, she got a concussion and blacked out for about ten minutes but the moment she got up, she was asking for the ball. It was about helping the team win and not just her.


 

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