By Rethabile Nyelele
Images by David Sootho
As described by Kelello Kgotuwe Tswai, dedication, hard work, passion and perseverance are some of the attributes that contributed to her landing a successful career in one of the most challenging jobs. The job of being a sports scientist.
Tswai, 34, is a University of Johannesburg sports scientist, who uses her knowledge and experience to help UJ athletes perform at their best without the risk of injuries.
She is currently working with the UJ Basketball team. She also works with the women and men senior football teams and was of great assistance in the 2022 University Sports South Africa (USSA) Basketball games.
Her journey can be traced back to 2007, where she enrolled for Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Human Movement Science at the University of Pretoria (Tuks). Like any student, it had been a roller-coaster but she finally triumphed and obtained her degree. She then went on to further her studies.
“One thing people don’t know about me: I’m an academic. Besides being a lover of life, I love learning,” said Tswai.
In 2019, she obtained her Master’s degree from the University of Peloponnese (International Olympic Academy) in Greece. Her thesis topic was about South African Olympians and their knowledge of Olympism. A gracious opportunity and a stepping stone for bettering her knowledge.
Same passion, different role. Sport is not new to Tswai; her passion for what she does started way back. She used to play basketball for Tuks in her varsity years and at a provincial level in Limpopo. She participated in the USSA games in 2009. In 2014, she was part of the USSA National Basketball team for Confederation of Universities and Colleges Sports Association (CUCSA) games that won in Botswana. It was during this year that she hung her national jersey.
“Being in a set-up where you represent your country is first and foremost an honour. It is all about the badge and representing the badge, you know, such things mould your life because they teach you lessons that the mainstream experiences of life would not teach you,” said Tswai as she described her experience and lessons learnt in a national team. “What this taught me is that I know someone will have my back because in a team we all have one common goal and you have to show up.”
She added that being a sport scientist is also close to her heart as she used to be an athlete herself and she is glad to be on the helping end this time.
“I love my job; I love working with athletes and being able to help. Yes, sometimes I meet different people with different personalities, but I do learn and I enjoy what I do. I am always happy to help, I’m very passionate about my work,” Tswai said passionately.
However, being a sports scientist is far from her childhood dream job of being a veterinarian. “Funny enough, people don’t know this but I wanted to be a vet,” she laughed. “It came as a surprise to my family and close friends who knew when I pursued a different career but I’m grateful for their support.”
Through her hardwork and dedication, she landed various job opportunities: she recently joined the UJ Sports family in February 2022 from Wits Sports. She was at Wits from February 2020 until January 2022 as the Strength and Conditioning coach for the men’s basketball and football team.
“I will always be fond of the players. I mean I had a great time working with them and they are family. We won the USSA too with them. It was just unfortunate UJ had an offer I couldn’t refuse,” Tswai said.
She added how sports is important at UJ with only the best considered for athletes, so she was humbled to receive such an offer. She continued to say the transition from Wits to UJ was actually very heartwarming for her.
Gaining recognition. Doing good comes with great rewards, even when you think no one is watching. Tswai was called to assist the national men’s senior USSA Basketball team in April 2022, making this her first national call-up as part of the technical team.
She won the Technical Official of The Year Award at the Gauteng Women in Sports Awards, twice in 2021 and 2022. “Honestly, I am humbled, winning this award for a second time, it’s crazy because I didn’t know someone is actually watching,” she laughed in astonishment.
With all that she has already achieved and accomplished, there is more coming from her and she is ready to inspire just like she’s been inspired. “Do you even have to ask? Yes, there’s definitely more coming from me. I don’t even know where to begin. I still want to learn more from others before me and to grow, and of course to be happy at all times,” she said.
She added how she would like to help basketball gain more recognition like other popular sports and to be part of every step that will see basketball become bigger than before. YC