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Get to know Springbok women’s rugby player and firefighter Zinhle Ndawonde

Zinhle Ndawonde
Zinhle Ndawonde

Springbok women’s rugby player and firefighter Zinhle Ndawonde shares with us how she juggles life as a rugby player and firefighter, and also what it means to be featured in the Adidas “Impossible Is Nothing " campaign.

GLAMOUR: Some of your fondest teenage memories growing up in Inanda township?

Zinhle: Growing up playing with my cousins, doing everything they did, going to the river with them, beating them at Pokémon’s and the whole atmosphere of surrounding a young girl growing up in a busy township. What I loved the most is that the whole community was a happy community, we all knew each other. The families around my area were very close and that made it special, knowing that I was not only living with my own family but I had other people around me that supported each other when we needed stuff and also when my family needed support it was always there, so the unity within the community made it special and now they are proud of me for what I have achieved.

GLAMOUR: What sparked your first interest/s in sports? and what sport did you partake in first?

Zinhle: What sparked my interest in sport is that I could be me, I felt free and at ease every time I was playing soccer in the streets. And when I first joined rugby at school, I felt it was where I belonged. I joined sport for myself and used it to distract myself from what was going on around my area which was drug abuse and teenage pregnancy. I told myself that I don’t want to be like the other girls that will succumb to these challenges and that is what pushed me to join sports. I chose rugby because it was a passion of mine.

GLAMOUR: Tell us a little about your journey to being a rugby player?

Zinhle: I joined rugby at school, Parkhill Secondary. It was touch rugby the first year I joined then the following year they introduced the actual sport. My dad was not pleased at all because I would come home late after practice at school and he would remind me that I’m a girl and therefore should be at home before 6pm. My teacher, who was also the coach, begged him to let me train with the team once a week.

*2006 I got selected to represent KZN 16 rugby girls at the games

*2007 made my first depute at the sharks senior-team

*2008 - got selected for the first ever springbok women u20

I also got call ups to train with the springbok team between 2012-2014 when they were preparing for the 2014 rugby World Cup but did not make the final squad.

I went back home and asked myself what I needed to do to be part of a professional team, and that’s when I changed my life, eliminated a few things in my life, friends, hanged out with people who had the same vision as mine, put in extra hours of training, and in 2016 the springbok coach saw me playing in the inter provincial 7s tournament where I had improved so much everyone could see the hard work I’ve been putting in.

From there I was part of the 7s squad.

GLAMOUR: What was it like breaking into the industry?

Zinhle: It was very difficult of course because rugby is a male dominant sport, and the women’s rugby teams don’t really get that much support or exposure. So, I had to break the barriers and those stereotypes to be noticed, promote women’s rugby, tell people out there who was, what I do and why I’m doing it. To give a solid foundation and touch the lives of young women in township who have given up on hope to be anything in life because of their circumstances at home.

GLAMOUR: You are the international sevens and fifteens rugby player for SA, what has the experience been like so far and some of your highlights?

Zinhle: The journey and experience have been amazing, meeting other teams and countries and getting to see their level of rugby as well as playing against the best teams like New Zealand, Australia and England. My highlights include playing in the 7s rugby World Cup in 2018, and common world games. First time playing against New Zealand as it’s known to be the best female team internationally, playing against Portia Woodman.

GLAMOUR: You are also a firefighter, which is also a demanding profession, how do you balance the two, rugby and firefighting?

Zinhle: Rugby and firefighting have the same sentiments which is that you have to be fit physically and mentally, so for me balancing is easy because when I’m at work I still keep fit with the training we do.

GLAMOUR: Tell us a little about your involvement in the Adidas "Impossible Is Nothing " campaign? and what it means to you?

Zinhle: Adidas is just amazing️, growing up in a township, Adidas was the most known brand that is loved and saluted by everyone... I never thought that one day I’ll be part of them. The Impossible is Nothing campaign is special because it’s rooted in the belief that sport can change lives, which is true for a lot of athletes.

It's about seeing beyond what may seem impossible. When people see me, they see a rugby player, but I see the possibilities beyond being a rugby player, I see Possibilities of a level playing field for all, I see possibilities of a new generation of talent redefining the game.

GLAMOUR: What or who is your biggest motivator?

Zinhle: My mother is my greatest motivator. She played a very big role in my life not only as my mother but she played the father role as well. She never had much but she made sure we had everything. I draw strength from her because she never gave up on me and my family, she kept fighting despite the situation she was in

GLAMOUR: What is your take on women in sports in Africa? What needs to be done to ensure that we continue to be able to compete globally?

Zinhle: I think women’s sport is not given much attention. It’s not being publicized enough or given the same equal rights as men. If we could get that right I think there will be a lot of change in women’s sport in SA, this will also help young athletes to enjoy equal benefits such as endorsements and personal sponsorship and even overseas contracts.

GLAMOUR: Your self-care regime?

Zinhle: Going for a spa treatment or watching movies alone.

*Connect with Zinhle on Instagram @zinhlendawonde

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