Close this search box.

Dive In

Latest Articles

Business people in a video call meeting
Entrepreneurship & Tips
Notebook with Let's talk Sex and condoms on pink background
African American woman looking at a map travel and explore concept
Lifestyle & Travel

Professional swimming paved the way

The realm of sports, through various types of games, has not always been welcoming to women, allowing them to showcase their talents.

This is evident in the way major teams have historically undervalued women in sports.

Despite being excluded from various sports, some women dared to fight for their rights until they became prominent figures in various sports.

Among these women who raised their profile in sports is Girimbabazi Pamela Rugabira, who became famous in swimming and even led its association in Rwanda.

She is a woman of significant influence in swimming in Rwanda and Africa, having competed in various international competitions that established her as a force in the sport.

She participated in competitions held in Sydney, Australia in 2000, in Greece in 2004, and traveled to Beijing, China in 2008. In all these places, she proudly represented Rwanda.

This mother of four is also an employee of the Rwanda Red Cross, in the disaster management department, and she balances this with her swimming career.

KURA had an extensive interview with Girimbabazi, where she discussed how she got into swimming, her experiences in the sport, and other related topics.

KURA: Could you walk us through how you got involved in swimming?

Girimbabazi: I started when I was young, swimming as a sport. At that time, I was involved in various sports at school, played basketball, and during holidays, I would swim. I loved it.

I participated in a competition, saw that I was capable, and that gave me the strength to continue swimming, feeling that it was a sport I really needed to continue enjoying.

The competition I participated in was in 1999, held at the former Hôtel Merdien, organized by the Ministry of Sports.

Rwanda is not known for swimming. How did you develop your talent?

At that time, swimming wasn’t very well-known and we didn’t even know the rules well enough to participate in international competitions, which led us to seek out various pieces of information.

The Ministry of Sports was there to provide us with information, and we had coaches from hotels who helped us train because there was a competition coming up to select participants for the Olympics, which were to be held in Sydney in 2000.

We trained as best as we understood, knowing we had to participate in an international competition. At that time, we went as two swimmers and runners.

How was the state of swimming in Rwanda around the year 2000?

It wasn’t very developed; it was a time of casual swimming as people understood it, and even if there were competitions, they were attended by very few people, mainly those who knew about it, from Kivu, coming from Kibuye and Gisenyi; those are the ones I remember.

What does representing Rwanda in various international games mean to you?

It means a lot! I would say it opened my mind. The first time I went abroad, I was young, 15 years old, and it felt extraordinary and like a great opportunity to see what I could get out of it.

This encouraged me to continue because I said, this has opened doors for me, I must pursue it until I understand it and can do it professionally.

At that time, it was something new that we didn’t fully understand, we didn’t have enough information on swimming, but because I adhered to the principles, I finished the competitions feeling like I had done well.

But when I looked at the scores, I saw they had given me less than I deserved because I had made mistakes, which I only understood later that there were things I needed to do to be on the list with everyone else.

It was disappointing but also motivated me to compete more and go further. Then I said, this won’t happen again, I’m going to train and look up to these people, next time it will go better.

What are some of your memorable moments from the swimming competitions you participated in?

The first time I went abroad. I would say making the decision because once someone arrives, they don’t have enough time to train, they are given just a few days, three or four.

During those days, I had the chance to speak because they told me, “What you are doing is not right, do it this way.”

There was a coach named Madou from Senegal, who told me, “Be careful because this is a competition, it’s obvious that this is your first time, behave this way.”

This gave me the heart to say that this person isn’t with me, he doesn’t know me, he has a player we need to compete against but he saw our weaknesses.

This made me say, I must work wherever I am, and help someone else. The first competition is what taught me a lot and I am happy in a way I can never forget.

Does swimming as a woman involve any physical challenges? How did you overcome them?

Being a woman or girl in sports at that time was a challenge in itself, often facing harassment.

For me, the major challenge was things like ‘delegation’, training camps, all the coaches were men, and there were many things I wasn’t comfortable with because of the people I was with.

There are times women and girls go through, it happened to me during competitions and I had to perform but I defended myself, looking for solutions.

I knew how to talk to the women organizers who were there, they understood. However, there are ways you are restricted and you see that the people I am with don’t understand, except maybe another woman would understand.

I went through many different things but when a person is determined and has a goal, they get through it. On my own, if I can find the resources and time, I will share what I have gone through, write a book so that it can help young girls to rise up well.

In sports competitions, where there is a girl, there should be a girl or woman on the committee. It’s very important.

There are limits because you lack someone to confide in to reach something, people get discouraged, if she had the strength to go far, she would just go back.

What has your experience in swimming brought you in terms of skills, emotions, and physical strength?

The first thing it brought me is physical health because it is a very good sport, so I urge all parents with daughters to get them into sports even if they don’t like swimming, they should do other sports because it helps them have a healthy life and mind.

Water relaxes the brain so that when you return to school or work, you have many ideas because your mind is open.

Another thing it helped me with is entering sports, and I also had the opportunity to help others who are rising and dare to do what they do.

What helped you lead the Rwandan Swimming Federation (RSF)?

I was pained when I saw the sport I participated in falling behind, I followed it closely. In 2009, I competed in my last national competition in Butare, and I won it.

Because of the leadership of the federation at that time, I saw that we were not aligning with what I wanted to elevate the sport.

At that time I handled it well, the prizes I received I immediately gave to the rising young children, sending them the message, “Keep going, reach far,” and then I moved on to another life.

I had a job, I continued to build and move on to other things but I was part of a team that helped young children during holidays, and parents would come to us and we would teach them.

To make the decision to join the federation, I followed the competitions, it saddened me to hear how the athletes spoke about not being given opportunities and their rights.

So I said, as someone who has done this sport, I must contribute my part. That’s when I decided to run for election, they trusted me and elected me.

How is the state of swimming in Rwanda now?

We are still rising, we have not gone far in swimming. There are four areas in swimming: in pools, in lakes, some swim as a form of dancing, and some play volleyball.

In pool swimming, I would say we are doing well. With the knowledge we have in Rwanda, and with players attending training when they go to competitions, they produce results. We cannot say we are behind.

Straight out of Twitter