#TuksWaterpolo: "Water polo is, to me, the ultimate sport. There is no respite once you are in the water," says Shakira January.

Posted on June 05, 2023

Eight years ago, Shakira January would have battled to keep her head above water in a swimming pool, but not anymore.

A lot has changed. She is now a seasoned international water polo player. In July, the 20-year-old January and Esihle Zondo will represent South Africa in women's water polo at the World Aquatics Championships in Japan. This is hard to believe, especially considering that January only learned to swim near the end of her sixth-grade year.

"I used to be an avid athlete and netball player. When it came to swimming, I was the 'drowning kid'. My friends convinced me that it was high time for me to learn how to swim. I will forever be grateful to them. Two years later, my cousin convinced me to play water polo. It did not take long for me to get hooked.

"Water polo is, to me, the ultimate sport. There is no respite once you are in the water. You are treading water all the time to keep your head above water. At the same time, you have to 'shoot' with your arms. Still, it is not all. You are in a continuous battle against opponents for possession of the ball. Things can get rough. There is a lot of grabbing, pulling, and kicking. While this continues, you and your teammates have to strategize how you will score goals. Needless to say, you are physically and mentally drained at the end of a game."

As to what she loves about the game, the Tuks player said, "Water polo does something to me. Once I dive in, I am totally focused. All my other frustrations are forgotten. All that matters is to be the best I can be.

"I play as a centre-back." So my role is to organize our defensive structures and find a way to get us on the attack again."

January considers the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in Japan as a definite highlight.

"I won't lie. I was scared the first time I played. Remember, my only international experience before the Games was playing at an under-20 level. Now I was up against the world's best. Most players were about 10 years older than me. I was shocked at how strong they were. That was until I found out how hard they trained. I am blessed to have participated in the Games at such a young age. The experience I gained has stood me in good stead.

"Our results as a national team speak for themselves." During the Olympic Games, we got thrashed, but now at the World Cup, we have started to hold our own. We won two of our games in Division 2, which led to us being second in our pool. In the playoffs, we were up against New Zealand. They did beat us. But who knows what might happen in a year or two?"

Away from playing water polo and her studies, January likes to relax in front of the television, eating popcorn while watching "The Voice". Apparently, she can do that for hours on end.

- Author Wilhelm De Swardt

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