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28 September 2018 | in FISU World University Championships, Netball, Education, FISU Athletes

Today's Star, Tomorrow's Leader: Mary Nuba

Heads & shoulders above the rest 

Mary Nuba is a towering figure in Ugandan netball and it’s not just because of her height. At 6 feet 7 inches, she may be literally heads and shoulders above everyone else, but also figuratively. She was the standout player at the recently concluded FISU World University Netball Championships held in her home country and made such an impression there that she is already being compared to Peace Proscovia – a legend of sorts in Uganda.


The Ugandan team snatched the gold medal from under the nose of tournament favourites South Africa, and it was Mary Nuba who made the decisive shot that won the title. The 19-year-old can barely still believe it.


“Me helping Uganda win the title was by the grace of God,” she says with humility. “I am grateful for my team and the victory. It is a moment I will live to remember forever and ever.”


There will be many such moments to come in her netball career, being as young as she is. It is not difficult to understand her gratitude however, considering the circumstances through which she has emerged. Netball may be a very popular sport in Uganda – it is played at every level from primary school to international – but playing the sport competitively was not easy for her.


“There were a lot of challenges with my parents,” she says. “I started playing netball in 2013 but my parents did not take so well to me joining sport alongside studies. They were quite bitter about it for some time. But I did not give up and I requested them to give me a chance to prove that I can balance the two with ease. By God’s grace they said yes and since then things have gone on well with both studies and sports.”


“I believe they are the happiest parents now, seeing where I am right now,” she adds happily.


She has kept her promise to them, of continuing seriously with her academics. Studying Business Administration at the moment at Nkumba University, next on the agenda for Mary is Loughborough University in the UK. Her enthusiasm for academics is delightful.


“It is one of my dream universities in the world,” she says of Loughborough. “I can already imagine the cool breeze in the UK and the welcoming people. I think it is going to be great to live in UK.”


Mary does admit though, that balancing two pursuits can be demanding. “I always make it a point to research and find out what I have missed when I am away for games. I also get help from my fellow students. Life is easier if you are determined to do something.”


That determination will also hold her in good stead as she has grand plans for her netball career. She has played alongside her idol Peace Proscovia in the Ugandan national team and together, she believes they can be great role models for young Ugandan women, and beyond.


“We have a vision of developing netball worldwide and of inspiring and informing other girls who may not know how interesting netball is. We want to call out loud to them and tell them to take up netball.”


You would think that netball would have been an automatic choice for her while growing up, given her height. But it seems it was in fact a disadvantage in primary school. She was so much taller than the rest that the teachers wouldn’t let her play.


“I was always denied (playing) just because I was tall,” she reminisces with some humour. “It was sad because I loved playing. But now, I’m the ‘gal on fire’. With this height, I can fly anywhere.”


The ‘gal’ was certainly on fire during the WUC Netball finals. She says facing South Africa, the tournament favourites, wasn’t daunting at all. She says they have a motto ‘Kufa Kidogo’ and it all came down to that. Ask her what it means and there’s a surprising reply.


“It means die a little,” says Mary. Then she explains further. “We analysed their game and noticed that it was so speedy and physical, that we had to slow down our offence and strengthen the defence.”


Surely, they got it right and it led to a memorable experience. But the World University Championships were special, not only because her team won gold.


“I was inspired from the first game I played in the Championships,” Mary says. “I felt so valuable and it gave me the best feeling ever. I enjoyed interacting with everyone during the competition. Despite the fact that we were from different countries, we had a strong connection with each other. It was such a friendly atmosphere.”


She will continue to play university sport at Loughborough and also dabble in modelling, swimming and dancing in her free time. Lots on the agenda, including the ambition to inspire others.


“Blessed are those who can realise their talents and use them positively,” is her message for other young women.


“Realise who you are and discover your talent. I believe everyone has a talent somewhere. You just have to find yours.”


That advice is pretty much ‘pitch perfect’, echoing the name of her favourite movie. This 19-year-old has big dreams, a good heart and a blank canvas of life stretching out ahead of her.