Tuks student-athlete, Onthatile Zulu, has risen up from Varsity Cup star in 2019 to Team SA Olympic representative in 2021, ticking off another box, on her exciting hockey journey.
Zulu’s dream has always been to participate at the prestigious Games and is ecstatic to have earned her selection for this year’s instalment.
In 2019, as a first year student, Zulu earned the Player of the Tournament award for her outstanding performances in the Varsity Cup.
Zulu admits balancing her studies and hockey career challenges her both mentally and physically, but perseverance and not giving up on her dreams keeps her going.
Speaking with Nonto Nothana, Zulu shares her goals and aspirations for the upcoming Olympic Games and shares a Youth Day message.
Onthatile, thank you for taking time to chat with us. Congratulations on being selected to represent South Africa at the Olympics! How does that make you feel?
I am honestly delighted to be selected to represent South Africa at the Olympic Games. Never in a million years did I think this day will come by so soon. It has always been my dream to participate at such a prestigious event and even better I get to go to my first Olympic Games at the age of 21. It’s such a blessing and honour and I can’t wait to give it my all because I know that not many people get this amazing opportunity.
In terms of your career highlights, where does this achievement rank?
Oh, wow making the Olympic 16 is by far one of my best career highlights. I mean, before this, I had played provincials and SA’s during my high school. I am part of an amazing institution – University of Pretoria – which has helped me develop my hockey over the years. So, when I got my call up in 2019 to be included in the SA Women’s hockey team I was delighted and knew that I had an exciting but challenging year ahead.
Please tell us more about who Onthatile Zulu is.
I am a motivated and diligent student currently studying Bachelor of Commerce in Business Management at the University of Pretoria. I’m very passionate about sport, to be more specific. I am a varsity sports athlete as well as an national hockey athlete. I love travelling and experiencing new cultures and traditions. I also enjoy spending time with family and friends.
“Hockey has brought a lot of joy into my life, and it has taught me lessons that I continue to use daily.” – South African Women’s Hockey player, Onthatile Zulu
What led you to your love and passion for Hockey?
I love that Hockey is a team sport, you can’t play it alone. I enjoy it so much, to win you need to have several other people backing you. It’s so awesome to be part of a team with different people and different backgrounds, it makes it even more special. I feel like individual sports can sometimes get lonely. Hockey has brought a lot of joy into my life, and it has taught me lessons that I continue to use daily.
How do you balance your studies with your hockey commitments?
It’s difficult trying to balance everything but I keep up to date with my studies by writing down everything that I have coming up prior to its due date. This helps me a lot, as I feel less stressed and I can try get things done in advance in case I have hockey. So, I always plan out how my weeks look to try relieve myself from possible stresses that could arise.
Who are your role models and why?
I have a big family and all the women in my family inspire me so much. My grandmother, mother, aunts and cousins. They have moulded me into the person I am. I am forever grateful to have such supportive and loving people in my life.
You made your first Varsity Hockey and senior national team debuts in 2019; would you say that it was your breakthrough year?
2019 was a crazy year for me. I was challenged both mentally and physically. I was a first year at the University of Pretoria, I was playing for the Tuks first hockey team and I had a lot of hockey tournaments – Varsity Cup, USSA and PHL. Although 2019 was a very overwhelming year, I was able to pass my first year, get a Player of the Tournament award at my first Varsity Cup and make the Hockey National Team.
“I am very ambitious, and it takes a lot of consistency, perseverance and hard work to get to a certain calibre of play.” – Zulu speaks on her hunger to succeed.
What keeps you motivated?
The hunger to be a better player for my teammates and South Africa every day keeps me going. I am very ambitious, and it takes a lot of consistency, perseverance and hard work to get to a certain calibre of play.
What Youth Day message do you have for our young readers?
Do not underestimate the power and impact that you have. We are the heroes of tomorrow, let us inspire and build one another to become the best versions of ourselves. If not now, then when? Now is the time.
What are your aspirations and goals for the Olympics?
I currently have 10 caps for South Africa and I have not scored a goal yet for my country, so one of my goals is to score my first international goal at the Games. I’m also looking forward to playing my ultimate best in every match I play in.
What advice would you give to youngsters in sport pursuing their dreams?
Sports can be challenging both mentally and physically and you must be willing to always persevere. Don’t give up on your dreams if they seem too farfetched, it’s all part of the journey. You never know when your opportunity will come so give it your all at all times.
Photo 1 Caption: Tuks student-athlete, Onthatile Zulu, will be part of the South African Women’s Hockey team that will represent the country at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Photo: Supplied