Malawi Queens legend Mary Waya was attending to a phone call when five girls, shimmering in blue-and-white school uniform, nervously approached her with broad smiles at the Blantyre Youth Centre (BYC) one Monday morning.
Unaware of what they were looking for, she continued walking around while concentrating on her long call.
It was only after her call that Waya learned the young girls had disembarked a school bus upon seeing her outside the age-old netball centre to have a quick chat with their idol.
Unfortunately, they did not meet the former Queens captain as the bus driver called them back to proceed with their journey while Waya’s ears were still glued to her mobile phone.
“I could have halted my phone conversation had I known the girls were looking for me. I am worried we did not meet because this was a lost opportunity for me to have an inspirational talk with the little ones,” she said.
Such is the attention the 53-year-old attracts whenever she finds herself in public places and it is no surprise to hear that Waya has been named as World Netball’s Heart Ambassador.
As one of the world netball governing body’s six ambassadors, Waya will be responsible for creating a better world through netball and play a key role in World Netball’s vision, which is inspiring netballers to embrace opportunities and achieve their potential and mission; to expand netball’s worldwide reach and impact.
It is undeniable that netball is the only sport the legend has been associated with.
She has been an inspiration to young girls in Malawi and beyond.
From the tender age of 14, the prominent goal-shooter was already a household name, playing international netball for Malawi Queens until she became the country’s highest-profile player with more than 200 international caps.
Waya was part of the Queens squad at two World Netball Championships, three Commonwealth Games and two World Netball Series, but it was after she inspired the national team to a fifth place finish — Malawi’s highest world ranking— at the 2007 World Netball Cup that the former national team captain earned global respect.
Upon quitting netball, she slowly, but surely became a reputable coach that later coached the Malawi and Tanzania netball national teams.
At present, apart from being a certified netball coaches’ trainer, she is also director of netball in the Ministry of Youth and Sports and she nurtures netball talents through her Mary Waya Netball Foundation.
The world netball governing body’s president Liz Nicholl said in a statement that they opted for Waya due to her contribution towards the development of netball in the world.
“Mary is a role model for millions in Africa through her legacy as an international netballer, coach and entrepreneur,” she explained.
“Her vision to inspire and motivate young women and girls to become confident women through her foundation demonstrates why Mary is the perfect ambassador to represent our ‘Heart’ value.”
Nicholl said by educating others, providing opportunities and showcasing the power of sport, Waya is using her experience and life lessons to give back to the community.
She said each of the six ambassadors represents a core value of World Netball; excellence, teamwork, heart, integrity courage and ethical athlete leadership.
“Together the values reflect World Netball’s commitment to operating within an Ethical framework,” she said.
As Heart Ambassador, Waya has joined Courage Ambassador Sara Donovan, director of Sports and PE in the United Arab Emirates; Teamwork Ambassador Mary Bernad OD President of Americas Netball and World Netball board director for Americas and Integrity Ambassador Gary Burgess, netball’s most recognisable and well-respected umpire.
She is part of Athlete Ambassador Shamera Sterling Jamaican netballer who plays for English top league club Adelaide Thunderbirds and Athlete Ambassador for Asia Charmaine Soh, Singapore National Team captain and most-capped player.
Waya believes her new role is a great milestone in her bid to help netball grow into one of the most popular sport disciplines in the world.
“I am really overwhelmed with joy and I thank God for this blessing. There are a lot of netball legends in top countries such as England, Australia and Jamaica, but the world governing body considered me to be among its ambassadors,” she said.
But Waya’s new role comes on top of her demanding tasks as director of netball in the Ministry of Youth and Sports, netball coaches’ trainer and founder of the Mary Waya Netball Foundation. How is she going to handle the pressure?
“I don’t think I will have any pressure because everything I do concerns netball development. Being the Heart Ambassador is similar to being a netball mentor. Netball has always been my life and the good thing is that I take my everyday work as a hobby,” she said.
The former Thunder Queens, now Imosys Netball Club coach said she is passionate about the sport and wants to use it to create role models that can go back into their communities and motivate others to be the best version of themselves in their everyday lives.
“World Netball’s strategic plan outlines how the governing body will harness the power of netball to change lives and I look forward to working with them on this,” she said.