When taekwondo athlete Veronica Manda was called to represent the country at the African Unions Sports Council (AUSC) Region 5 Games in Lesotho last year, winning gold medal was the last thing on her mind.
“All I dreamed about was to have fun. I couldn’t wait to see myself on a big stage; displaying my taekwondo skills. To say the truth, I did not think I could win gold on my first international appearance,” she said.
“My expectation was to first gain international experience before winning something in the next events, but the opposite happened.”
At the Games, the 17-year-old did not only become the country’s first taekwondo athlete to win gold in the Region 5 history, she was also one of the two gold medalists among the 84 Malawian athletes at the games.
Her individual gold as well added to the 10 silver and 10 bronze that the country won through other disciplines such as netball, football and boxing.
However, the most interesting part was that, despite being her first appearance on the international stage, Veronica managed to pluck the gold through a knockout victory in the final after she floored the hosts’ athlete Lipuo Molise.
The Mzuzu-based athlete also had some wonderful results on her way to the final as she beat her Eswatini opponent 33-11 in her opener and Botswana athlete 22-9 in the semi-finals.
“I couldn’t believe I won the gold for Malawi after defeating some of the most experienced athletes on the international stage. This was a great achievement for me and I couldn’t wait to take the medal home,” she said.
Nevertheless, fate decided to delay her homecoming as she was among 12 individuals that stayed behind in Lesotho to observe a 15-day quarantine period after the games for being diagnosed with Covid-19.
“It was a shock for me when I was told to stay behind in Lesotho when most of my fellow Malawian athletes were returning home. I was very disappointed because I wanted to arrive home as early as possible to show off my gold medal,” she said.
Veronica’s coach Henry Zonda and Taekwondo Association of Malawi (TAM) vice-president Assa Mulagha Maganga said they were impressed with her overall performance and were happy that finally Malawi taekwondo has a Region 5 medal.
“Her fight in the final was very tight, but she won it because she was very smart and calculative,” Zonda said.
According to Maganga, Veronica is one example of a female taekwondo athlete they are developing for bigger international events.
He is urging the corporate world to help in motivating more girls to join the sport.
But Taekwondo, being a martial arts sport is mostly considered a men’s game.
What prompted Veronica to join the sport and how important is it for girls to get involved in it?
The Form Three student at Msongwe Community Day Secondary School in Mzuzu said she joined the sport while in Standard Six in 2016 as a way of enhancing her physical health and self-defence.
The sport emphasizes kicks over all other techniques.
Considering that legs are usually longer than arms, it is said to be a great martial art to keep would-
be attackers from getting close.
“I would say taekwondo is a sport every woman should get engaged in as it has many benefits. Many people think it is a violent sport, but in reality, it teaches discipline, enhances physical health and promotes self defence among women,” she said.
“My mother was initially reluctant to let me join the sport, but she later appreciated its benefits.”
As Malawi is preparing to host the next Region 5 Games later this year, Veronica is hopeful to win another gold medal and expects more girls to participate.
The black belt holder, who aspires to become a medical doctor, also dreams of becoming the first Malawian taekwondo athlete to qualify and win a medal at the Olympic Games