Tuesday Aug 06, 2019. 11:00
By Nick Said
There are not many internationals in multiple sporting codes these days, especially those who can so easily move from one type of sport to another in a matter of days.
Malawian Towera Vinkhumbo is one of those rare individuals.
She was a star for her nation at the 2019 Netball World Cup in England last month, helping the side to a credible sixth position behind the traditional heavyweights Australia, New Zealand, England, South Africa and Jamaica.
And within days of returning from that tournament, she was in training with the Malawi senior soccer team for the on-going COSAFA Women’s Championship being staged in South Africa.
It is a remarkable achievement by the 28-year-old, who is vitally important to both her national teams and is a key cog in their success.
“I don’t actually find it that hard to switch,” Vinkhumbo tells AfricanFootball.com.
“When I am playing netball, I am fully concentrated on that. I do not think about football.
“And when I started training for the COSAFA Women’s Championship, I put netball completely out of my mind. I did not think about it at all. I am able to separate the two.”
She has been a tower of strength for Malawi at the Nelson Mandel Bay and captained the side in their 3-1 loss to hosts South Africa in COSAFA, and also in their 13-0 victory over Comoros Islands.
Another remarkable fact is that her sister, Salomie Vinkhumbu, was captain of Malawi at last year’s COSAFA Women’s Championship and is still in the side this year.
“I came into the tournament very fit. I had been training for the World Cup, so I was in very good condition and within days I was training with the soccer team, so I have been able to keep a high level of fitness,” added Vinkhumbu.
The ninth-born of 11 siblings, Vinkhumbo played both sports in primary school, with her passion for soccer driven by her late brother Aubrey, who was a star name for local top-flight soccer side Mighty Wanderers.
“I played both at school and I loved both sports. I could not say that I had a favourite,” she continues.
“But as I got older, you know there was not much sponsorship for football in those days in Malawi. But netball was a big sport, so I decided in 2005 that I would concentrate on netball only. I left football behind.”
The tall Vinkhumbo progressed quickly in netball and was selected for the national Under-21 side, who she would eventually go on to captain as well.
“I enjoyed netball more at that time, though I could never walk away from football altogether. So, I played some matches here and there, and in some of the bigger tournaments,” remember the Malawian international.
“But I was still fully focussed on netball because that was where the opportunities were for me.
“I did not think at the time I would play football seriously again, but you know I was seen at these tournaments and suddenly they were asking me to come play for the national side. I could not say ‘no’.”
She says the netball World Cup in England was a bitter-sweet experience, but one she ultimately enjoyed.
“We had to play under a lot of pressure at the World Cup. We learnt during the tournament that we had dropped from number six to number nine in the world, so we felt pressure to achieve and do more to prove to people that we were better than that,” pronounces Vinkhumbo.
“I think we played quite well, it was a good experience.”
And so, what of the future for this superstar? Will she keep playing in both codes with both the netball and football World Cups four years off?
Vinkhumbo is non-committal: “The future? You know, I am also working in Malawi as a fitness trainer at a gym and have a Diploma in Human Resource Management which I am completing. So, I must look at that too.
“I have also done a coaching course for netball so that I could coach at senior national team level and I hope to do more courses in both football and netball. So, that is what I am focussed on and my day-to-day job.
Could Vinkhumbo one day be coach of both the Malawi football and netball sides? Don’t bet against it…