Iowa, USA | THE INDEPENDENT | Nearly all the top Ugandan swimmers who have represented the country at international events lately, have been groomed by Dolphins Swim Club in Kampala.
The list is long. From 14-year-old Kirabo Namutebi, who recently bettered Jamil Lunkuse’s national 50m freestyle record, to 18-year-old Ambala Atuhaire, current freestyle national record holder from 50m to 400m; to 16-year-old Mukalazi Tendo.
Outside Dolphins, one or two stars have emerged that were either born abroad or lived there most of their lives. These have been lucky to practice the sport where training facilities, and coaching, is top class.
Twelve-year-old Athieno Grace Wandera already looks a candidate to be added to this list in the coming years, if her performance in the US state of Iowa is anything to go by.
The DSMY Marlins Travel Team star has a time of 26.17 seconds in the 50 yards freestyle competition, a result which currently makes her the 2nd best in the state of Iowa in her age category, and 114th in the USA – after only three years in the sport.
She was a late entrant as her mother, Justine Grace Wandera, struggled to convince coaches in Waukee, Iowa that she was good enough for the sport. After first being rejected, she got a chance at 9 years when a coach of the local YMCA swimming team accepted her entry for a tryout.
She ended up by beating everyone in all the strokes and is now rated the best black swimmer in her age category. She is the best black swimmer in the 50 freestyle and 100 freestyle in Central and Midwest of the US in her age category.
Who is Athieno?
Athieno Grace Wandera was born in Iowa, Waukee U.S.A on March 31, 2007 to a sporting family.
Athieno’s parents were born and raised in Uganda and they were very competitive athletes throughout their youth.
Athieno’s mom Justine Grace Wandera is from Arua and a former netball star champion in Ediofe Girls School, back in the 90’s. She is currently a Doctoral student.
Athieno’s dad Dr. Apollo Wandera from Tororo, is the lanky, former 800 meter track and field champion back in 90’s in Uganda. He studied at Kisoko High in Tororo, St. James SSS in Jinja but his running talent was not enough to secure him scholarships. He dropped out of school and headed to Australia first, then finally the US.
Athieno’s two elder brothers and a younger brother still play basketball. Her sister featured in track and field like her dad.
Athieno was 9 years old when she was enrolled to swimming lessons by watching other kids swim in Waukee IOWA YMCA swimming pool.
Thereafter Athieno’s mom tried several times for her to be put for competitive tryouts with other kids, but never succeeded.
The coach told Athieno’s mom that her swimming strokes or abilities “are very terrible” therefore she can’t swim with others who are better!
Athieno’s mom never gave up by trying to ask another coach if Athieno can join the YMCA swimming team.
The coach accepted and during the tryouts, Athieno ended up beating everyone in all the different races.
“Since then, Athieno always loves swimming as her favorite sport and set that goal of shining for Iowa a year earlier. We supported and watched her as she continued to have faith that she could do it,” her dad Dr. Apollo Wandera told The Independent. He has a PHD in Clinical Psychology.
“By her realizing that there were no limits to success, and once passionate about your objective, nothing can stop you – she has continued to shine” he added.
He said their eyes were opened to Athieno’s great potential when she qualified for the 2019 USA Eastern and Central Zones Summer swimming Championship in North Dakota.
Athieno qualified in the 50 yard Freestyle,100 yard Backstroke and 100 yard Freestyle races.
The Eastern and Central Zones Championships is a meet where 14 and under swimmers from all over Iowa come together and compete as one team against North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, Missouri, Indiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Illinois, Utah, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Idaho, Georgia, and Kentucky. This year’s meet was held in the 2016 Olympic Trial pool in West Fargo, ND.
During the zonal championships, Athieno was the only Black American girl who got her individual medal in the 50 freestyle event, out of 176 Competitors. In the team relays she was the 3rd.