Sports is a powerful weapon, for, it has the power to turn a life from nothing to something as we have seen with countless sportsmen and women world over.
One would hardly understand how a 6-year-old orphan, who lost most of her family including both parents and several siblings during the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi, could overcome such agony to become a top tennis star—that’s what Rwanda’s women number one, Meganne Ingabire represents.
Despite women still lagging behind their male counterparts for recognition in sports, and tennis not being very popular specifically in Rwanda, Ingabire rose against all odds, from a humble background and horrible past to become the best female tennis player in the country.
In her trophy cabinet, Ingabire has a total of 14 trophies and 3 medals of local tournaments’ she has won in her career since making a breakthrough in 2010.
The right-hander, Ingabire, who says she has never tried any other sport, started playing tennis in 2003, thanks to a family friend, who used to take her along at Rugunga-based Cercle Sportif de Kigali.
“The beginning was not so easy as it took me nearly two years to adapt before I could officially start playing in serious competitions,” she recalls.
She says her first tournament in mid 2005, a youth competition, sponsored by President Paul Kagame at Cercle Sportif de Kigali, was a memorable one as she won it after defeating first daughter Ange Ingabire Kagame in the final.
“I remember the tournament like it was yesterday, I can never forget that feeling of receiving the medal from his Excellency. I was awarded a medal and scholastic materials among other prizes,” Ingabire reveals in an interview with Saturday Sport.
The former Groupe Scolaire Mburabuturo pupil, Ingabire ended her miserable three-year junior level career in 2007 after several failed attempts to win the East African Junior Championships.
Ingabire’s first tournament on a senior level competition was the 2008 ITF Money Circuit first-leg in Bujumbura where she was knocked out in quarter-finals, she was also eliminated in the round of eight in second-leg in Kigali before a second round dismissal in the third-leg Kampala meet in 2008.
Between 2008 and 2010, Ingabire never went past quarter-finals at the annual ITF Money Circuit competitions but from 2011 to 2013, she reached the singles’ finals three times but without winning any of them.
However, she partnered with Gisele Umumararungu, Rwanda’s number two, to win the doubles’ gold medal back-to-back for three years in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
Since 2012, the soft-spoken Ingabire has featured in several international competitions such as Congo (Kinshasa) Open, Kenya Open, Uganda Open, Tanzania Open, Nigeria Open, Zambia Open but didn’t win any, most of the time stumbling in semi-finals apart from Uganda Open 2013 where she lost in the final.
So far in 2015, she has managed to win all four tournaments on the local scene namely; Heroes Day Cup, Genocide Memorial Tournament, Liberation Day Tourney and recently the inaugural Umubano Hotel Open.
All Africa Games, a dream come true
The vastly talented Ingabire is part of the four-player Team Rwanda that is in Congo-Brazzaville for her maiden appearance at the All Africa Games. The other three include Umumararungu, Dieudone Habiyambere and Olivier Havugimana.
The 11th All Africa Games that started on September 4 and will run up to 19 is the biggest competition for Ingabire since her tennis journey begun 13 years ago and the right-hander believes the tournament is a good opportunity to prove herself on the continental scene.
“I feel honored to represent my country at such a big stage, I will do everything possible to show that Rwanda’s tennis level is not so far behind the rest on the continent,” she told this paper before departure.
Ups and downs
Thirteen years in business, Ingabire has got her ups and downs, but told Saturday Sport that she draws motivation from her lows more than her the highs and always thrives to be a better player.
“My lows awaken me most than the highs, the low moments are the ones that keep me going, trying to do something right that I did wrong yesterday.”
She says playing tennis is a tribute to her family that she lost 21 years ago, “Succeeding as a tennis player is the least I can do in their honor, I want to make them proud of the daughter they left so soon.”
What do fellow players say about her?
Rwanda’s number two since 2012, Umumararungu, is Ingabire’s biggest nemesis in the singles category and her partner in doubles category but also a close good friend off the tennis court.
“Her tennis talent is undisputable; she has been consistently on top for a couple of years now. Off the court, Ingabire is also a good person, understanding, humble and compassionate friend. She inspires a lot of young talents around,” noted the 20-year old.
Tennis is thought by many to be an expensive sport, a game for the rich but Ingabire urges women, especially young generations to join tennis with a target-based mindset and they will not regret.
Ingabire is a part-time tennis trainer at Cercle Sportif de Kigali and coaches young players as well as women and although she does not have retirement plans, when that day comes, she plans to venture into professional coaching.
In a bid to raise the level of local tennis players, Ingabire urged local tennis federation to consider organizing more competitions. “It’s through playing as many competitions as possible that the (Rwandan) players would improve and be able to compete favorably at the international stage.”
Who is Ingabire?
Born on August 21, 1988 in Gikondo, City of Kigali to Isaac Karemera and Venantia Nyirajyambere, Ingabire is the 15th born from a family of 17 siblings. Both her parents, eleven siblings and most of close relatives were killed in the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi.
The 27-year old Ingabire was raised from Gikondo-based AVEGA Ahagozo orphanage since late 1994 till 1998 when her grandmother’s sister Esther Mujawankusi (died in 2009) returned from exile in Burundi to adopt her and her surviving siblings.
She attended Groupe Scolaire Mburabuturo from primary one to four before moving to Rwamagana-based Duha primary school where she completed primary level.
She joined Kicukiro-based Ecole Congolaise for ordinary level studies before switching to STH Gasogi for A’level studies where she completed in 2011 with a certificate in hostelry.
Currently, she is a second year student at Kicukiro-based Rwanda Tourism University College (RTUC) pursuing a bachelors’ degree in Hospitality and Tourism.