Woodman reflects on her career

HARARE - For 22 years Bonny Woodman was at the helm of Special Olympics Zimbabwe (Soz), a movement dedicated to improving the lives of people with intellectual disabilities through sport.

It was only until that infamous directive from the Washington-based international body — the Special Olympics Regional Management for Africa — that under the New African American management, Soz was supposed to be led by an indigenous Zimbabwean.

She was born in Cape Town, South Africa, 70 years ago and holds Zimbabwean and Irish citizenship.

And naturally, she was disappointed but her passion in dealing with humanity kept her on her toes as she continued her association with Soz as an honorary member.

“I earned my respect from the sporting community and government in Zimbabwe. I was disappointed that such a misconception by foreigners should impact on our programme, one of which was recognised as the best in Africa,” Woodman told the Daily News on Sunday yesterday.

“Nevertheless, it was time to move on, I told myself. Throughout 22 years of voluntary service to an organisation, or rather to our Zimbabwean athletes, a time of dedication and passion it was a great honour for me to serve them.”

Woodman joined Soz as a swimming coach in 1987 and rose through the ranks, performing duties such as public relations, among others, until the big honour of being national director.

Despite a premature end to the journey in December 2008 that had started in 1987, Woodman never abandoned the sport as she continues to be involved as an honorary board member.

She refers to herself as “Wife, mother, gogo (grandmother) and humanitarian,” and was forced to relocate to Zimbabwe then Rhodesia because of her brother’s condition that needed higher ground.

“My brother was asthmatic and doctors advised my parents to emigrate to higher ground. We came to what was then Rhodesia. My father immediately embraced our new country and adopted citizenship for us all,” she added.

“My son Tom swam for Zimbabwe and I spent many hours at the side of Les Brown Pool supporting him. It was there that I was asked to coach swimming to special needs children and adults and initially found the challenge daunting.

“However, after my first lesson with these special people at St Catherine’s, I knew that I could make a difference to their quality of life.”

Woodman reckons that this was the beginning of an incredible journey.

Among her major highlights was being invited to dinner at the White House in December 2000 by the then United States President Bill Clinton as representative of the Sub Saharan African Special Olympics programme, a position she was voted into by All African Programmes.

A year later she would be invited to meet the late ex-South African President Nelson Mandela on Robben Island in her capacity as a Special Olympics International board member.

Woodman was also invited by the then Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger for dinner at his home in Santa Monica, again in her capacity as Special Olympics International board member.

She was the first runner-up during the Zimbabwe Sports Administrator of the Year Awards in 2004 at the Annual National Sportsperson of the Years Awards (Ansa).

In 2004, Woodman ran her first Two Oceans Half Marathon in Cape Town at the age of 58, winning bronze and since then she ran three more races getting a podium finish in all the competitions with her final event coming in 2010- a challenge she set for herself later in life.

“The reason I decided to run under the training of Comrades multiple silver medallist Ephraim Kambaira was because over the many years I had presented to special needs athletes for their achievements and had never won a medal myself,” she explained.

“Ephraim, a neighbour, took me under his wing. I was a challenge to him never having run before. I did well in my age group and then went on to run another three half marathons so I now have a haul of my own medals.”

Her two children Mike and Tom have also tapped on her love for philanthropy.

Both were educated in Harare and also played a part in sports for the country.

Tom represented Zimbabwe in the All Africa Games in swimming and was also a member of the national Water Polo team.

Mike, a former St Georges College student rowed at school and for University of Cape Town and helps with some coaching on the Mazowe Dam when he is in the country.

“Mike is a doctor and has travelled to  human conflict disaster zones including Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Congo, Sudan, Haiti, Myanamar and the refugee camp for Somalians on the border of Kenya working for doctors without borders- a charity organisation,” she said.

“Currently, he is in Lebanon co-ordinating health care for 1,2 million Syrian Refugees. Tom is a doctor working in London and both men did their elective stages in Zimbabwe, Mike at Mpilo in Bulawayo and Tom at Parirenyatwa in Harare.”

She is still very busy and active as before.

“We do a 5km walk most mornings. Our son sponsors our subscription to a local gym which we go to three or four times a week,” she adds.

“I continue doing voluntary work. Walk dogs twice a week for a friend who is mostly out of the country. There are so many people in need of help if I can and I am kept very busy.

“My husband is a government pensioner and the time has come for our son Mike to subsidise us in order to enable us to continue living in our country where we belong.”

She paid tribute to the current Soz board but noted they need more support with regards to funding.

“There’s an excellent board in place, the programme needs much support, it is a voluntary one. Those who serve will know that the athletes have priority.

“It is offered free to all people who are intellectually challenged, the sports training never stops and the benefits last a lifetime,” she said.

“I have had so many humbling moments. Working with these special needs athletes keeps you grounded with their amazing ability to overcome their disabilities.

“The challenging times were fundraising especially during the Zimbabwe dollar era when generous funding dwindled to such an extent that the Team Zimbabwe to Shangai would not have been able to attend but for my persistent nagging of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe to allow the funds to be converted into US dollars at the preferential rate stressful times indeed.

“There was no way that I was going to let those athletes down.”

Comments (1)

working hard brings success

sam munhu - 28 October 2016

Post a comment

Readers are kindly requested to refrain from using abusive, vulgar, racist, tribalistic, sexist, discriminatory and hurtful language when posting their comments on the Daily News website.
Those who transgress this civilised etiquette will be barred from contributing to our online discussions.
- Editor

Your email address will not be shared.