#TuksWaterpolo: Esihle Zondo is inspired by Serena Williams to be a trailblazer in poolball

Posted on June 14, 2023

If Esihle Zondo's name crops up in a conversation about sports, there is a real chance that someone won't know in which sport she represents South Africa.

A logical guess is that she is an athlete or participates in ball sports. But it is incorrect. The Tuks student plays water polo. In July, the 19-year-old will represent South Africa at the World Aquatics Championships for the third time.

According to Zondo, when she started playing, few good players of colour were any good at playing water polo. It served as extra motivation for her.

"I believe the narrative that black people can't swim is slowly being broken down, but it is still programmed in people's minds. I know this because I still see the element of surprise when they see me swimming at a public pool or playing water polo."

Without her knowing it, the legendary Serena Williams inspired the Tuks student to be a trailblazer.

"Serena was a pioneer, a go-getter, and a black woman paving her way in a predominantly white sport. She was and is a representation of little black girls who believe that being great and doing what you love has no limitations. Her achievements, her life story, and honestly, Serena as a whole made me think that I am the right amount of crazy to believe that I can go after what I want to and do it in as much style as I see fit. I can also help change the narrative around black people and water sports. It might be slightly delusional of me, but it keeps me going.

I will also be forever grateful to my mom. She is fantastic for being so strong. Her life story also inspires me to do and be better. And then there are my first two coaches, Olympians Mandy Loots and Wilma van Niekerk. They gave me confidence and made me believe my goals are achievable."

It could be said that Zondo grew up as a "water baby." Her mom took her to her first swimming lesson when she was only six months old.

"I started playing water polo when I was in fourth grade." I love the physicality, strength, skill, and quick thinking required to be competitive as a player. My best quality as a player would probably be my strength. I can play all positions and usually switch around a lot during a game, but as of last year, I got placed as a center-forward/wing player."

The Tuks water polo player made her international debut at the age of 15, but it was after the COVID pandemic, her career took off. When she was 17, she was selected to attend the Junior World Championships. A year later, she was in action at the Senior World Championships. She represented South Africa at the May World Cup Qualifying Tournament in Berlin. Next up is the World Aquatics Championships in July.

- Author Wilhelm De Swardt

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