Year of hard work is paying off for Tumi Mahloko, who has overcome her toughest challenge to date, to bounce back from a year-long injury, and be included in the South African team for the Netball World Youth Cup in Fiji in December 2021.
In 2019 the University of Free State athlete tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) on her right knee, disrupting her plans for the next 12 months. Mahloko used the forced hiatus to take a step back and reflect on her relationship with the game while putting her mental wellness in check.
Mahloko is living the dream of every young girl who dreams of being clothed in the beloved green and gold. At age of nine, she was inspired by seeing her mom’s photos and trophies during her playing days. Ten years later, she has secured her ticket into the national set up.
Speaking to Lonwabo Nkohla, the Limpopo born 19-year-old shares her journey, how she negotiated the challenges, and her dreams going forward, as she prepares to don the green and gold.
Congratulations on your selection. What a moment it must’ve been when you found out you made the squad. Tell us more about that. How did you feel?
The moment they announced my name in the team was surreal, really hard to even put into words. I remember quickly closing my eyes in the moment and thanking God because it was the toughest journey I’ve ever had to go through. I really don’t believe it would have been possible without God’s grace .
Let’s do a mini Tumi profile. Tell us about yourself… Who is Tumi Mahloko?
Tumi Mahloko is a 19-year old South African Netball player from Limpopo, and a family of four. Currently in my second year at the University of the Free State studying Bcom Investment Management and Banking.
Passionate about growth in all aspects of life.
When Tumi is not busy with Netball, she’s booking a vacation to go anywhere really. I enjoy cooking and reading a good book.
When and where did your love for the game of Netball begin?
My love for Netball started at a very young age. My mom was a netball player herself, so seeing her netball pictures and trophies made me want to be like her one day. So at the age of 9, I joined a netball club by the name Rising Stars.
Being surrounded by people whose love for the sport was shown through their play. That made me fall in love even harder with the sport.
I had amazing teammates and management from a young age that made sure I practice like nothing less than the best. I have always been shooting for the stars, since then, and here I am now.
You were very open on Twitter about the toughness of the trials. Take us through that grueling processes.
I’ve been to a lot of trials but these one in particular for me, were very tough and on a whole other level, which is why I decided to share my experience on twitter, so people kind of have a picture of what we go through as athletes, before we make teams.
So day one of the trials were going good at first as we had fitness tests like the yo-yo test, and I was killing the tests so I was very happy until I got an ankle injury later in that day, which made me very frustrated, because I’m already coming from a big knee injury, so I was not looking to deal with another injury at such an important time.
I remember I immediately went into survival mode, because I had to figure out how I’m going to get through day 2 and 3 with the ankle injury. Day two comes, and I’m handling the ankle injury well, but later that day I get food poisoning.
At this point, I just want the weekend to end, but I had to fight, because I was not going to give up on my dream of playing for my country again.
I felt I had so much to prove coming from such a weak place of injury, so I didn’t want to come off weak so I pushed through with everything in me. I slept very early on day two, so waking up on the last day, I felt way better.
Just needed a good breakfast and I was ready to carry on with my fight. Long story short, you are looking at a South African U/21 player and I’m grateful and so proud of myself that I didn’t give up.
You were out for a year due to injury, are you able to take us through what happened?
In 2019 playing in the USSA’s I tore my ACL in my right knee. Worst moment of my life to hear the doctor say I have to be out a year. I mean, I was just a first year student that wants to play netball. I had no knowledge whatsoever what an ACL even is, so you can imagine.
But it wasn’t as bad to get through as I thought it would be, mainly because the support structure I had was amazing. Of course I wanted to play netball, but along the journey I started to find my “WHY”.
Why did I start playing netball in the first place? What do I want to achieve, and HOW am I going to achieve my goals?
The year off the court gave me a year to be ahead mentally and I say that because I grew so much during that time that I don’t even recognize the Tumi I was before my injury.
I’m really the best version of myself right now. And that’s how I got through 6 months of doing rehab by myself during the lockdown.
It takes so much discipline to wake up every morning and rehab to be stronger, not to play, not to be fit, just to heal completely from the surgery.
What kept you going on your road to recovery?
My goals kept me going on the road to recovery. I knew where I wanted to be, when I wanted to be there, and I was doing the HOW I’m going to get there. My goals were my alarm clock to wake up and train twice a day. My goals were my motivational speaker when I sometimes didn’t feel like waking up. I didn’t want to feel weak anymore so I knew the only way to fully recover was to keep on working, and that’s exactly what I did.
Women in sport face a variety of challenges, from school level, all the way to senior/ national squads, what have been some of yours?
The change in intensity of the game from school level to university level has been my biggest challenge and still is. The sport now requires so much more of my time and is hard on the body. So conditioning of the body is so important, if you going to survive at this level.
South African women are always shooting for the stars, I bet you are no different; so, let’s hear it girl, what are your big, bigger, biggest Netball goals and ambitions?
Believe me I have big goals and dreams of my own. Now that making SA U/21 for World Cup is ticked off, I really want to represent the country at the 2023 Senior World Cup hosted in Cape Town and beyond that, play for a netball club overseas for a couple of years.
What do you think of the current state of Netball in South Africa? Any changes that you’d like to see?
I’d really like to see netball players in South Africa get more exposure. I was listening to an interview the other day where our netball president Cecilia Molokwane mentioned that we need to have a channel of our own as Netball and I absolutely agree.
The sport needs to be taken more seriously because we are definitely giving the results. I’d love to see it become a professional sport as so many athletes are great but leave the sport to go look for a job because sadly netball in South African right now doesn’t put bread on the table.
Which Netball players, past or present, local or international have influenced your game?
The former Australian Diamond Goal keeper Sharni Layton has been a netball player I’ve looked up to for years growing in the sport. Her passion on court shines through her, and that’s what I absolutely love her. She is the most unapologetic player I’ve ever witnessed. I saw her in me since playing netball from a young age. She has inspired me to not be insecure about how tall I am, and to embrace my athletic body.
What inspires you outside of Netball that your game still benefits from?
My family are definitely my inspiration outside of the sport. They have believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself and always made sure I have everything I need in order to be successful. I always go hard for my family because I want to make every single one of them proud.
Now that the squad has been announced, where to from here?
Now that the squad has been announced for the World Cup next year in December (1-11 ) in Fiji, we go into preparations to be the best team. Starting next month in October, when the Telkom Netball League commences, the SA under 21s are going to compete against the teams in the A-section in preparation for the World Cup. Going forward we hope for more opportunities to compete so we become a better team.
Photo 1 Caption: Tumi Mahloko’s resilience has earned her a selection into the U21 SA Netball squad, which will be going to the 2021 Netball World Youth Cup in Fiji. Photo: Supplied
Photo 2 Caption: In 2019 as a first-year student at the University of the Free State, Tumi tore the ACL in her right knee. “Worst moment of my life,” she says, to hear the doctor say she is out of action for a year. Photo: Supplied
Photo 3 Caption: After being inspired at the age of nine after seeing her mom’s photos and trophies from her playing days, Tumi Mahloko is living the dream of every young girl who dreams of being clothed in the beloved green and gold. Photo: Supplied
Photo 4 Caption: “Believe me I have big goals and dreams of my own.” After earning call-up to the U21 national netball team, Tumi Mahloko intends going all the way through to represent her country at the 2023 Senior World Cup in Cape Town. Photo: Supplied
Photo 5 Caption: What does Tumi Mahloko think about the state of netball in SA? “The sport needs to be taken more seriously because we are definitely giving the results. I’d love to see it become a professional sport”. Photo: Supplied