Dennis Ombachi, a Kenyan rugby player, describes how he managed to play a competitive sport while coping with bipolar disorder.
For many athletes, winning a game by scoring a goal in extra time is a feat many will never forget. It stands for an athlete’s determination to overcome obstacles. As a result, many people’s memories of the event remain vivid. His buzzer-beater goal gave the Kenyan rugby team the victory they needed to qualify for the Olympic Rugby Sevens competition.
“I really can’t remember much. What I remember is getting the hooter and hearing the coaches, the late Benjamin Ayimba [Kenya’s head coach] and the technical bench just screaming Omba, Omba!” he recalled.
When his team competed in Rio against some of the best rugby teams in the world, Ombachi performed very well. Kenya became a regular in the HSBC Rugby Sevens Series due to their league success. However, at the height of his athletic career, Ombachi suffered a leg injury that prevented him from participating in team activities for the remainder of the year. Unbeknownst to many, Ombachi also struggled with his mental health, which was far more complicated than his broken leg.
“Bones and muscles eventually do heal. But what I didn’t factor in was the mental toll it would take on me and which dragged on, even up to now that I still suffer a bit from it,” the Kenyan star said.
Ombachi facing the disorder
Ombachi was forced to stay at home due to a severe leg injury. The rugby star eventually attempted to end his life. Fortunately, his family and friends remained by his side and urged him to check his mental health. At that time, he was identified as having bipolar disorder, characterized by manic highs, depressive lows, and psychotic episodes. In addition to his network of supporters, he found that cooking improved his mental health.
“My love of food is intertwined with playing rugby because it started when playing the HSBC legs. You tour close to 18 countries a year, and all of these countries, have their own culture, languages and food. So we used to eat different kinds of foods,” Ombachi said.
“I used to come back home and challenge myself to try and create some of the different dishes I had here and there. I think that’s how the passion grew,” he added.
To find an inspiration
Who among the many foodies could ever overlook the legendary Gordon Ramsay? Ombachi appeared to have grown fond of Ramsay’s cooking and skill in the kitchen.
“Through his YouTube channel, I understood the fundamentals, the principles and how to use your tastebuds. That’s what got me through most of my depressive moments, especially when I was injured,” he said happily.
“In cooking, Gordon Ramsay was my mentor, although he doesn’t know about it.”
Ombachi eventually managed to re-enter the game. But the pandemic prevented him from realizing his sporting potential, so it has returned to his house. But TikTok gave him another opportunity to transform and find the motivation to carry on. Ombachi uploaded a video of himself preparing food and giving it to children in Nairobi’s streets. On TikTok, the video has received over 15 million views.
“I think this [cooking for street kids] comes from when I was in high school. There was a time when I was a little depressed and lost. So I decided to run away from school. I knew I didn’t want to go home. So I ran away and was a street kid for a week.”
“I made lots of street kid friends, and it made me understand and empathize with them, that they are regular human beings just going through the same problems as all of us. My opportunities are just better than theirs. ”
Photo Credit: Anthony Wallace