When Asimenye Simwaka puts up her best performance representing the country in women football and athletics, she does not do it for fun.
She is both a footballer and an up-and-coming athlete who put the country on the map by becoming the first Malawian ever to reach the quarter-finals of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Recently, she was named player of the match when Scorchers beat Banyana Banyana to book a place in the finals of the Council of Southern Africa Football Association (Cosafa) Women’s Tournament.
It is the hope of the Scorchers’ attacker and short distance runner that one day her exploits will birth a lucrative deal with a foreign club.
Asimenye’s dream to travel abroad is to bid farewell to what she describes as troubled life of poverty and gossip here.
The athlete explained that it was hard to train in both athletics and women football as each discipline demands a series of unique physical, technical and psychological tests.
But she ignores the challenges as her goal is to clinch a lucrative deal in one of the sports disciplines.
It is understandable for the fourth-born in the family of seven children to continue the push for a good life through sports.
The 24-year-old failed to complete her nursing studies at St. John of God College in Mzuzu in 2018 as her parents— peasant farmers in Mwenelupembe Village in the area of Traditional Authority (T/A) Kyungu in Karonga— could not raise enough money for her fees.
So far, Asimenye has been living with her elder sister in Mzuzu where she practices athletics in the morning before going for women football training in the afternoon during week days.
She said: “Now, I have applied for the Malawi Police Service recruitment and it is my hope that I will make it. Otherwise, I still keep my fingers crossed that some day, I will be able to make a good living through my sports talents.”
Asimenye started athletics in 2019 when out of the blues, she contested and won the senior ladies 10-kilometre race during the National Cross Country Championship at the Mzuzu Golf Club.
“I went to the event as a fan, but ended up contesting after my friend convinced me I could make it since I also played football. It felt great to end up as the winner,” she said.
It was after that moment she realised she could juggle both women’s football and athletics to see which one could be the best as regards to making ends meet.
Her determination to make it big in athletics were laid bare for all to see a few months ago when she ran her lungs out in 100-metre heat to finish second behind Joella Lloyd of Antigua and Barbuda in 11.76 seconds at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo Japan.
Nobody believed that someone, who has been in athletics for barely two years and was competing on solidarity, could pull a surprise against some of top-class athletes that went to the games through qualification and were among the best at the World Athletics Championships before.
“To say the truth, I was nervous at the start of the race after realising the calibre of athletes I was competing against. However, I told myself not to feel out of place and it worked,” Asimenye said.
Her vintage performance qualified her for the quarter-finals, but could not make the semi-final grade after settling for eighth position in 11.68 seconds.
In spite of that, the feat was enough not only to help her become a holder of three national records in 100 metres, 200 metres and 400 metres, but also qualify her for the next African Athletics Championship.
Standard qualifying time for the continental championship is 11.7 seconds.
In June this year, Asimenye broke the record in 200 metres at the Cameroon National Athletics Championship, where she clocked 23.46 seconds.
In May, she broke the 400 metres record by clocking 53.31 seconds at the All Corners Track and Field in Zambia.
The Mzuzu-based track and field athlete is also a reliable women’s football national team striker.
She has been instrumental in the Malawi Women’s Football national team campaign in the 2022 TotalEnegies Women’s Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.
Asimenye was vital in the Scorchers’ historic qualification in the final of Cosafa women’s Championship in South Africa recently.
She even won the player of the match accolade in the semi-final against former champions South Africa’s Banyana Banyana.
During her exploits at the Olympics, Asimenye missed a lot of matches for her club Topik Super Dynamos in the Football Association of Malawi (FAM) Women’s Cup, but she managed to score eight goals in the three games she featured in.
But it is her achievements in athletics that have made her one of the local celebrities.
Upon her return from the Olympics, she no longer needs an introduction as people often stop her on to ask about her training schedules and other activities.
It is no wonder, therefore, that the Athletics Association of Malawi (AAM) expressed worry over her absence at the recent National Athletics Championships in Lilongwe.
Football Association of Malawi (FAM) refused to release her from the Scorchers’ camp ahead of the Cosafa event.
Asimenye started playing women football after completing her secondary school education in 2014, but she got her first national team call-up in 2018.
Just like most female athletes, especially women football players, she has experienced all sorts of abuse from the public for her passion, but she stands firm in pursuit of her goals.
“Some people have been telling me to stop engaging in women football because it makes us lose shape and that would eventually lead to struggles as regards to finding marriage. However, I always shrug off their claims because I know what I want in life,” she said.