Over the years, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology has produced some of the most formidable names that have blazed the rugby field. From the likes of Oscar Ouma, Nick Barasa and Edwin Achayo, a number of JKUAT alumni have had the coveted chance of donning the Shujaa/Simba jersey as they patriotically represented Kenya in various rugby tournaments.
Ian Stuart Minjire, a JKUAT Civil Engineering Alumnus joined this coveted club in late March 2018, when he was drafted to the Kenya 7s squad for a month-long tour that included Hong Kong, Singapore 7s series and the Commonwealth games. He is currently on a Sports Scholarship pursuing a Master’s in Urban Agglomerations (Planning) at Frankfurt University in German. The towering six-foot-two, pacy winger, motivated by his goals, family, and the aspiration to leave a legacy that outlives him, shares his journey and his future plans.
Highlight your JKUAT journey as a student.
Becoming an engineer was a childhood dream. Getting accepted to JKUAT was great news but not so exciting at first because it was in Juja campus, far away from my passion of rugby; all the way in Ngong road. Although, this later turned out to be the best decision I ever made. I moved into a single room in Juja which I shared with a previous primary school classmate with whom we had reunited in our pursuit of a Civil Engineering Degree. JKUAT had its strengths. It was a well-organized public institution that gave me strong technical knowledge and training of engineering. Through clubs such as Student Engineering Society, Toastmasters, International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience (IAESTE) and Aiesec I became an all-rounded student delving in public speaking, community engagement and impacting the less privileged through social responsibility.
How did you juggle School and Rugby?
After classes at 4 pm, I had to travel in a matatu, sit through rush hour traffic, all the way to Ngong road to train and play till 8pm for my rugby club (Resolution Impala Saracens) at least 3 times a week. I would then return all the way back to Juja arriving at around 10pm, a long but worthy journey. The sport took all my time but protected me from all the dangers idle time exposes you to. When I succeeded in getting better in the game and playing international assignments for my club and country, most of the university’s lecturers, such as Eng.Wanyoike, Dr.Kazungu and Mr.Njuki were very understanding, some even agreeing to push forward CATs to accommodate my schedule. I was once granted temporary absence from classes to travel out of the country by my then Chair of Department, Mrs. Kibetu and Dean, Prof.Manguriu on condition I return for exams. I am forever grateful for their support. Some of my classmates would share notes to me online for me to keep reading while on travel. This was just a blessing.
Did you ever don the JKUAT Cougars jersey?
It was one of my wishes to play for them but unfortunately, I did not since my commitments to the club did not allow me to play elsewhere. I however did train with them severally.
They say rugby is a gentleman’s game and anyone that tells you otherwise is just choosing to see the thorn in the rose bush. It is a game that builds values of discipline, hard work, humility, and teamwork. I am lucky to have previously been both a basketballer and footballer, but I settled on rugby. It is a contact sport that teaches a man to control anger and leave it on the pitch. That discipline outweighs talent, seniority or status. Injuries teach you how to overcome downfalls in life. When we win, we stay humble in victory and when we lose, we unite. It is also one of the biggest sports in the country after athletics and has repeatedly united us as Kenyans.
What are some of the rugby accolades under your belt?
I was the 2017/2018 Kenya Cup player of the season. I have taken home the Man of the Match award in different games. With my teams, Impala and Kenya 7s, I have several tournament wins including Kenya Floodlights, Kabeberi 7s, and Victoria Cup 7s among others. I am a top scorer of the German club I currently play for.
Who are your sports idols and mentors?
My sports Idols are Humphrey Kayange and Innocent Simiyu; one of whom I have played with and been coached by. Their leadership and education to sports balance motivates me. As for my mentors, I have Prof. Anne Muigai, Professor of Genetics at JKUAT assisting me with life coaching and career guidance with George Kabutha and Peter Nduati; who through his company sponsorship to Impala rugby club gave players like me sports scholarship to complete our undergraduate degrees.
What are your strengths both as an athlete and as a person?
It is difficult to assess myself, but I will try to be as honest as possible. As an athlete, I must say I was always known to be a very fit player, impenetrable defensively and difficult to beat on the high ball. As a person, I try to be reliable, trustworthy, and confident in myself and my abilities. These helps me rise from my failures and has pushed me through the lonely journey of chasing my passion and dreams. I am a God-fearing person and always ready to learn from others regardless of age and gender. Called upon, I am always ready to impart leadership but also comfortable with being led and being a team player. Something I picked from the game.
How did you land the sports scholarship?
Before graduation, I secured an internship in Berlin, Germany at the Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM), through IAESTE. For my love of the game, I was able to network and found a rugby club in Frankfurt (ScFrankfurt1880) willing to give me a scholarship for my masters as I play and coach for the club.
Through the assistance of my thesis supervisor Prof. Abiero Gariy, I applied to Frankfurt University and secured a place in the Urban Planning Master Program. I am set to graduate in October 2020 if the Corona Pandemic does not change things.
Why Masters in Urban Agglomerations?
While interning as a civil engineer at the Kenya Urban Roads authority, I was exposed to many other difficulties our city faced around transportation, housing, and water resources. Constructing roads was important, something I one day will return to but I thirsted to get a birds-eye view on the city, and what more I could offer to impact the lives of all residents, from the elderly, disabled, young, privileged to the less privileged. To understand how Nairobi can be a Sustainable Smart City with all its beauty, combined with the technology we envy in the outside world. My thesis is on future prospects for sustainable public transportation in Nairobi city.
What challenges have you encountered juggling sports and education?
Fear of becoming a jack of all trades and master of none. Splitting time between two things you love and still trying to flourish in both is very difficult but not impossible. I however find peace with knowing that sports has a short life span and once it ends I can master in my career while giving back to the sport. I am also planning to pursue coaching in the future. It is important to give back to a game that gave me so much.
What advice can you give Kenyan Universities and Clubs in relation to sports scholarship?
It is important for Kenyan Universities that are not already doing it, to provide sports scholarships to students and fund sports to allow them to pursue both sports and education which are important to forming an all-rounded student. For clubs, more of them need to offer education scholarships to players, they can partner with close universities that do not have sports services to allow players have a chance to pursue their studies as they play.
This would give them something to fall back to if sports do not bear fruit. Its almost better than someone that offers you a job, fish vs fishing rod theory.
What is next for Minjire both professionally and as an athlete?
I think the goal at hand academically is to graduate for my Masters. Whether I pursue a PhD, gain work experience in the field, or turn into an entrepreneur, time will tell. As an athlete, the sky is the limit, I will continue to play for as long as God gives my body the strength to.