How Fun Turned Into Competition

As Ammara Pinto makes her Olympic debut in Rio, her friend Sheena reflects how the swimmer's hobby became her passion. Sponsored by GE

Lilongwe— Malawi, a landlocked Sub-Saharan country is officially the world’s poorest, and with the government lacking the money to fund international level sport to the extent needed, it is no surprise that only five athletes are set to compete in the Rio Olympics this month. Two of which, are swimmers. I grew up swimming against a particularly strong athlete, Ammara Pinto, who is now set to represent Malawi at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

Ammara proudly carries the Malawian flag through a parade

For Ammara, swimming has been a huge part of her life from the time she was four years’ old.  At the school we both went to, there were compulsory swimming lessons at school where our tough coaches would train us during our lunch breaks in the hope that we would win a medal at the Malawi Nationals each year. Interestingly, we always knew who to watch out for because we had competed against the same children from the very beginning. 

Ammara receives a gold medal in the Malawi National Swimming Championship

Apart from being competitive, swimming galas’ were a social event for our small community in Malawi. Mothers would bring energy drinks and glucose powder to hand out to swimmers, and fathers would wear school colours and cheer us on. We grew to love the sport that brought us all together. We were competitive swimmers, no doubt, but competitive to an olympic degree? Only in our dreams.

Ammara’s Dad used to say, “If you're going to do something, be the best in it.” Not only did he give this advice to Ammara, but also to her older sister, Zahra, who competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics at only fourteen years old. 

“Watching my sister excel motivated me to be even better than she was,” Ammara told me. “After Zahra participated in the 2008 games my Dad became president of the Malawi Aquatic Union (MAU), which meant his increased involvement in Malawian swimming, enabling him to push us harder. My father’s passion lives inside me despite his sudden passing and motivates me to push through any hurdles that the sport sends my way.”

Ammara wins Victrix Ludorum (Most Successful Female Athlete) of her school 

As Ammara makes her final training laps before the biggest race of her life, she cannot fathom the emotions that she will experience, standing on the diving board in Rio.

“As I give training a final effort before race day, I cannot predict the feelings that I will experience on that diving board.”

 “I honestly thought of it as just some really fun competition. Until it finally hit me when I was in the call room and realised that the whole nation and even world will be watching me.”

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