TAEKWONDO is one the youngest sports disciplines in Rwanda. The martial art was officially launched and recognised by the Ministry of Sports in 2011.
However, despite having been around just for four years, the game has produced some stars already - men and women.
Some of the most renowned Taekwondo martial stars include; Placide Bagabo, Savio Nizeyimana, Martin Nduwayezu, Regis Iyumva and Delphine Uwababyeyi.
Today, Saturday Sport profiles women’s taekwondo icon Zura Mushambokazi, the Black Belt-second Dan holder—she is the highest ranked in women’s taekwondo in Rwanda.
Who is Mushambokazi
Born on September 9, 1992 in Kampala, Uganda to Shaban Ntaganzwa and Fatuma Mukamihigo, she is the first born in a family of five girls.
She attended Kabuga-based Adventists Primary School for the whole of her primary school; however, due to family troubles financially, Mushambokazi quit school to care for her younger siblings and try to shape her future.
“After dropping from school, I had no idea about what was coming next. But because I was always passionate about sports, I first tried athletics and later joined taekwondo which turned out to work best for me and here I am now,” Mushambokazi narrates.
It’s hard to find a person without a football sense but the soft spoken Mushambokazi doesn’t mind about football and has got no favourite player in this sport, or team.
She says: “The best I can do in football is to support the national team, Amavubi Stars, otherwise I never take trouble following football at all. My focus is taekwondo and my job is to improve into a better professional.”
Former middle distance runner Mushambokazi, officially ditched athletics for taekwondo in early 2009 and since that time she has never looked back; she aspires to become iconic in local taekwondo and one of the finest in the region.
In mid-2008, Mushambokazi was attending a South Korean NGO called ‘IOAF’ based in Kimironko that was there to teach Bible study and English and, during evening hours they happened to also teach taekwondo.
As she attended her bible-study and English classes and as well watched people play and being taught taekwondo, a few months later she decided to give it a try under the mentorship of South Korean experts.
Her masters saw potential in her, they started nurturing the talent in her.
However, the 22-year old Mushambokazi admitted that she had a rough beginning in taekwondo which was made even worse by her parents who at first discouraged her from taking up the sport citing the risk of sustaining major injuries.
“The beginning was not easy at all; I had to convince my parents that joining taekwondo was for the best of my future. They feared for my life, saying I could get injured,” she recalls.
Since the start of her taekwondo journey as a rookie in 2009, she has worked and practiced very hard to rise from the white to black belt- second Dan she currently holds, the highest owned by a female in Rwandan taekwondo.
“During my first three years (2009-2011) in the sport, I had to work really hard to earn promotions from belt-to-belt as well as getting more experience. And since 2012, I started featuring in competitions locally, in the region and on the continent,” she told this newspaper in the exclusive interview.
Since 2012 Mushambokazi has featured for her club (IOAF) and the country in many tournaments in and outside the country. She has won a total of 14 medals, seven gold, 6 silver and one bronze medal from various competitions.
The ITF World Taekwondo Championships in Mexico and Lotto Dutch Open 2013 are some of the major world class competitions she has featured in.
The last medal she won was Silver at this year’s Gorilla Open Taekwondo Championships staged at Amahoro stadium earlier this month.
The 49kg category fighter was also supposed to represent the country at the 42nd Edition of Dutch Open held from March 13 through 15 in Eindhoven, Netherlands but she pulled out at the last minute due to an ankle injury.
She noted: “It’s been three months since I picked up this (ankle) injury during a training session but I didn’t take it seriously and kept playing with it and the situation turned out to be worse than I previously thought; fortunately, I’m almost fit now.”
In 2013, she was named the best female Taekwondo martial artist of the year.
What do coaches and fellow players say about her?
Placide Bagabo, a black belt-third Dan holder, a national teammate, and secretary general of the local taekwondo federation, is one person who knows Mushambokazi since her rookie years in taekwondo.
“Zura is a courageous fighter, I have seen her grow and mature faster than any other female in taekwondo in Rwanda. At just 22 years of age, she has a bright future ahead, by the time she turns 30, there is a lot she will have accomplished in her career,” Bagabo told Saturday Sport.
Allan Bagire is her coach at national team. He said Mushambokazi is a talented and self-motivated fighter; she fears failure and always strives to be the best.”