Fredrick Otieno is a skating hero, a national hero, he rehabilitates street children through skating . Currently the National Coach for the Speed Skating National team, Fred says this is a position he got courtesy of his programs with the skating club he founded; The Nairobi Sprint Skating Club. A student at the Kampala University taking a degree course in Community development, Fred is our Kenyanstar of the week and he opened up to Kenyanstar on the challenges facing skating as a sport and how he uses it to rehabilitate street children..
KS: Please tell our readers who you are.
My names are Fredrick Smith Otieno, I'm the National Coach for Speed Skating In Kenya under the Kenya Federation of Roller Skating...
KS: Many Kenyans do not know that such a federation exists, They don't look at skating in the light of 'sports'..
Skating is a sport, with various disciplines. Actually like any other sports but instead of using your normal running shoes you use a skating shoe with a few exceptions like the skate board.
KS: How is the federation structured and what are its specific responsibilities?
Like any other sport, the kenya federation of Roller skating is the National Governing Body of skating in kenya. The federation has a national office and County representatives in every county. The federation also has directors representing each skating discipline namely Hockey, speed skating, roll ball, slur loam, roller skating. These leaders are elected every four years and the current office was elected in March 2015. The current president is Mr. Antony Mburu and the organizing secretary is Mr. Lameck Wafula.
KS: Let us get more specific and speak about your discipline...
KS: Yes! How long have you been the National Coach?
Since last year in November. The former coach, Joel Andanje, got sick so i was asked by the federation to step in and assist.
KS: How would you describe speed skating to an amateur?
Well i can say it is the mother of all skating sports because it is a basic requirement even for people who want to play hockey because they must first of all be able to skate.
KS: Do you, as a team, participate in any competitions?
Yes, normally we have competitions up the scale from county level, National level, Regional level, Continental level and the world cup.
KS: As the National coach, Have you already had a chance to lead a team in competition beyond the national level?
Yes, when i took over last year, the team was preparing for the BMW marathon in Berlin. We had a team of 15 skaters but we managed to send just 5 due to financial challenges.
KS: How did the five perform?
Out of 4,500 participants, our top skater, Peter Kamau, finished in position 104. We think this was quite a performance considering the conditions under which they participated. while the competition was on Saturday, our team travelled on Thursday and used better part of Friday for the registration process. They didn't even have a chance to relax and get a feel of the track so we believe under better circumstances we can do much better.
KS: What sort of support do you receive from the government?
I can say this is a sport that the government is yet to fully recognize. We do write proposals at the beginning of every year and send them to the ministry of sports but nothing has ever come out of it. Like about a month ago we submitted a proposal for this year's financial support, we hope to get something out of it because in June we'll be having qualifiers in preparation for the world championships that will be held in China in September. We need to start preparing for this so support from government will go a long way. We pray that they start treating skating like all other sports, It is not just some sort of leisure.
KS: Do you(As a sport) collect any funds from guys who come to watch you play?
I think this must be the only game where participants pay to participate and entertain others. When we have tournaments we pay to participate but when guys come to watch us skate we don't ask for any monies from them so basically we fund our own competitions and activities.
KS: Besides Finances, what are the other challenges skating as a sport is facing?
Mainly it is lack of infrastructure, We do not have anywhere for example where we can hold an event and charge people to come watch. Options like indoor arenas for both Nyayo stadium and Kasarani are too small while the tracks of the outdoor stadiums have rubber instead of tarmac. We are currently using this parking lot at Agakhan walk but the county government of Nairobi has already put us on notice that they will be developing a high rise parking lot here in the next three years so we need to be thinking of our next move.
Another challenge is that the skating shoes are very expensive. A complete set of one pair will go for approximately ksh 30,000/-.
KS: Does the federation plan to put up a facility for skating sports?
The federation is working out something in collaboration with the County Government of Kilifi. We had an event in Kilifi last year which they(the county government of Kilifi) accepted to fund. The Kilifi County Minister of Sports was the chief guest at the event and after seeing what we were doing he gave a commitment to help put up a facility in Kilifi. So currently that is the only facility we are hopeful for.
KS: Why would you recommend skating?
Because the me it's a discipline sport. For starters It helps you coordinate your mind and body while skating. Secondly it is a health exercise and would help you burn a lot of calories. I train skating in a number of schools and in all of them they have given me feedback on how I have assisted the kids to be more mobile. Lastly of course it is a sport that if well monetized would provide employment to our youths.
KS: At what age would one be ready to start skating lessons?
As long as they can walk then they can enroll. For the young ones it will take on average three months of training from the beginner stage to be completely stable. For the older ones it might be a little longer. But in both cases you will teach them the balancing act and transition slowly to various techniques. Most clubs here at Agakhan walk parking lot charge ksh 300/- per one hour of training.
KS: Let us discuss Sprint Skating club...
I started Sprint skating club in the year 2015 in September. It is a skating club for street children there are only two of this kind in kenya, the other one is in Kisumu.
KS: Why street children?
A combination of reasons and a result of circumstances. You see i used to come here just to enjoy a skate back then in 2015, and there were all these guys who would come with skates and hire out to people. So there was this street child, around 9 years old, who paid up to use the skate for an hour but he wasn't good in skating. Ideally you would pay for the skates and spend an entire hour with it but for him, he used it for 20 minutes and gave it back, came back for another 20 minutes and gave it back, when he came to pick it for the final 20 minutes the skate owner declined to give it back to him and said he had exhausted his time with the skates.
KS: Was the shoe owner genuine?
I'm not sure and i don't want to judge but then i went and spoke to the street child, he was still angry but i asked him if he would like to be a skater and if he would like me to coach him. He said yes. So i gave him conditions that for me to coach him, he would have to give up sniffing glue. He would also have to come for lessons every evening from 7pm. I didn't think he would take it seriously so when i came here the next day at around 7.45 pm i found him waiting and he was very annoyed that i had said 7pm and arrived 45 minutes later. So then he took it up very seriously and we would train for two hours every evening making use of the little available space because the parking lot is normally in use during weekdays but then in the evening at 7 cars have started leaving...
KS: How did the numbers grow?
I got an invitation to attend an Ice hockey tournament at the Panari Sky Center. I came along with Baloteli [The nick name we gave to the street child]. The tournament was on a Saturday. When i came here on Sunday morning like i always do, i found Baloteli with a number of street kids all saying they want to skate. My imagination is that he went and told his friends he had been at Panari so they all figured this skating thing can take people places. I didn't have any other options other than to take them in.
KS: How many were they? Did you have sufficient capacity to take them all in?
They didn't leave me with much of an option. They were nine in total and i had only two pairs of skating shoes. So i sat them down and informed them that i would take them on board as my skating team but with some conditions. First they would have to give up gum and musing if they wanted to be on my team. Secondly in us much as they have nowhere to live, they would have to be a bit more presentable especially when they come here on Sundays so that they can integrate with the rest of the people who come here. Lastly, they would have to accept to share the two pairs of skates i had. So we made a schedule and each of them had separate training days in pairs.
KS: How did you cope with your obviously very limited resources?
I tried a number of things, first i hired out skate shoes to use during my night trainings. For the guys who come to hire them out every Sunday, i made a deal with them so they would give them to me at half the price to use during my evening training sessions and i would give back on Saturdays. I also reached out to friends and appealed to them to assist. I told them i wasn't sure what i was doing but that i wanted to carry on to its conclusion whatever it was. Quite a number came through.
KS: What was the outcome?
Our first tournament was in Machakos in April last year, we faced a real challenge because we still had only two pairs of skate shoes. Unfortunately in a competition you can't borrow shoes because the person you are borrowing probably also has participants at the same event. Another unfortunate thing was that my team all belonged to one age bracket so with our two skates only two could compete in Machakos. The results were somewhat shocking one of my boys finished second in the short races and another finished second in the marathon. We took home two medals in our maiden competition. It was a shock to many but more so to me, i didn't expect it. But that was the boost we needed to put in more effort in what we were doing.
KS: Besides the lack skate shoes what other challenges has your club faced?
The major one is rehabilitation of the street children. It is very difficult to do it when they are still on the streets so i got them a house in Majengo, we are paying ksh 1,500 every month but at least it is something compared to staying on the streets. Part of our rehabilitation process is reconnecting them with their families, we have had a few successes but the efforts are ongoing and lastly we are trying to have them return to school. Four are already back in school and our target is that by the end of this year we have returned all of them to school. But the most difficult is getting them off gum and other drugs.
KS: Besides well wishers how else do you raise funds ?
There are schools that i teach skating, that is my main source of funds for this program. Also for the older members of the Sprint Skating Club i introduce them to some of these schools. Finally we get invited for road shows and activation events by corporate organizations where skaters are needed and these gives us some additional revenue to run our programs.
KS: Do you have a way of letting the general public know what services your club can offer?
We have a website that lists all services our club can offer but most importantly we get our geeks through word of mouth by people who have either used us before or know about us from somewhere.
KS: Fred, What is your parting shot to all kenyans who will read this?
I would like to encourage Kenyans to embrace skating as a sport, and it is not a rich man's sport it is everyone's sport. And like every other sport, skating brings people together and creates cohesion among people from all classes. So i encourage Kenyans to teach this game to their children. They can always come at the agakhan walk parking lot and you will find a lot of skating clubs who will teach your kid at a small fee. And as for street children, I would like us not to stigmatize them. When you spend time with them they tell very moving stories and most of them didn't choose to be here. They are here because of mistakes by some kenyans so let us not segregate them.