Jacob Ojee's delicate balance between sports, education and business
And as he goes about his activities on and off the pitch, he says,” I am guided by three pillars – hard work, patience and perseverance.
Michael Wanjala (left) and Jacob Ojee (right) during past action with Shujaa/Photo/World Rugby
Jacob Ojee is a household name on the Kenyan rugby scene.
The 2014 National Sevens Circuit Most Valuable Player is a dual international, donning the national team colors in the sevens and fifteens versions of the game.
He is also a multiple Kenya Cup, Enterprise Cup and National Sevens
Circuit champion with his club side KCB. Away from the field of play, Ojee, an International Business Administration graduate from the United States International University –Africa is also an entrepreneur with his fashion brand, The Outlook.
WHO IS JACOB OJEE?
I am the fourth born in a very huge family, a family of boys.
We have very few girls in our bloodline. I was born to an amazing mum and a very supportive dad.
I was born in Kisumu in 1991 but my early childhood was in South B, Nairobi before we moved back to Kisumu in the year 2000.
I did my KCPE at Gulf Academy before joining Cardinal Otunga High School between 2006 and 2009.
EARLIEST RUGBY MEMORIES
I was inspired to play the game by my elder brother, Casey.
I started playing club rugby at a very early age. My first club game was for Kisumu RFC in 2007 when I was in form two at Cardinal Otunga High School in neighboring Kisii County.
I was selected to play an Eric Shirley Shield game away to Mombasa. I played about 15 minutes but it was a significant memory for me.
I played against Kenya Sevens legend Oscar Osir and also some of my future team mates at KCB and the national team such as Moses Amusala, Darwin Mukidza, Stafford Abeka and Matthew Musita.
Two years later I was selected to play for the Nyanza Provincial side at the Safari Sevens Schools tournament.
“It was a great confidence booster as I got to play on the big stage, meet my idols and understand what it takes to play on that stage.
When our Kisumu RFC team finally got promoted to the Kenya Cup in 2011, I realized that I could play this game at the highest levels.
I moved to KCB the following season and have gone from strength to strength.
These three memories really boosted me to become the player that I am today.
NATIONAL TEAM EXPERIENCE
I received my first call up in 2013 for the Kenya Sevens team but I didn’t get play time.
I was again called up under Paul Treu in 2014. It was very interesting working under Treu.
He was very intense with his training regimes and this meant that I had to bring my A game to every session.
This experience shaped my perceptions of rugby to date. It was not about the hard work alone but also having the mental strength to go through the processes of training and the actual matches.
I donned the sevens jersey for the very first time at the Gold Coast Sevens and that was a very special moment for me.
I remember scoring my first ever try that was converted by Augustine Lugonzo, who I knew very well from our school rugby days. Lugonzo who was also making his debut said to me, “ni time yetu sasa!” (It is our time). This made me want to achieve more in my rugby career.
I finally made my test debut in 2015 against Portugal in Nairobi. I remember the then Simbas Head Coach Jerome Paarwater telling me and my fellow debutantes, Sammy Oliech and Darwin Mukidza, ” I’m going to name this young and inexperienced back three and I am not naming any substitutes for them. If you pick up this jersey, you are playing for 80 minutes…whether injured…walking or crawling.”
The three of us took it as a challenge and played one of our best games together.
BEST AND WORST RUGBY EXPERIENCES
Ojee has experienced a series of highs and lows on the rugby pitch.
He shares his highs, saying, “Getting to play for Nyanza Schools and reaching the final of the 2009 Safari Sevens Schools tournament, earning Kenya Cup promotion with Kisumu RFC in 2011, my first world sevens’ series tournament in Gold Coast, Australia in 2014 and the 36-27 win against Spain in Nairobi in 2015 rank among my best rugby experiences.”
In 2015, he suffered a horrific leg break playing for his club side, KCB during the Driftwood Sevens in the coastal town of Mombasa.
Commenting on this injury, Ojee says, “It came at a time when everything had aligned for me at club and national team level. It was very devastating as I knew that it might be the last time I might ever play rugby competitively.
Another low point for Ojee was missing out on the Rugby World Cup repechage tournament played in Marseille, France in November 2018. “It was also a downside as I believe I had put in the hard yards and deserved to be part of the squad.”
Through rugby, I have embraced teamwork, patience, resilience and the drive to constantly improve both on and off the pitch.
BALANCING RUGBY,BOOKS AND BUSINESS
Ojee is an International Business Administration degree holder from the United States International University -Africa and he speaks about his balancing act.
“I grew up in a family that was a bit well off. Primary and high school was good but things didn’t go too well after high school. I finished high school in 2009 and enrolled for accountancy courses in 2012 as the fee was manageable. I did this because money was short. “
“With monies from my first professional rugby contract with the Kenya Sevens team in 2014, I enrolled for the second part of my accountancy courses at the KCA University.
It was very hard as I needed to impress at the national team and work to stay in school. It meant traversing Nairobi, from Githurai where I resided to Brookhouse School where the national team trained.
I missed some classes in the run up to playing my first tournament in Gold Coast and this affected my grades. I had to redo the entire section but it was then that I made the decision to prioritize academics over playing.
During my recovery period from that leg break in 2015, and after a period of reflection, I started my current business before registering for my degree course at USIU.
Thankfully I had set aside a kitty for school during the period I was in the sevens team.
The dark days during that particular period really taught me a lot. I focused on school and business.
I made a recovery and got a recall to the national team in 2017 under Paarwater. I remember telling the coach about my academic program and we worked out a schedule. I also had a very supportive Head of Department at USIU and coupled with support from the Kenya Rugby Union, I was able to juggle my academic and playing commitments.
2019 was quite challenging as I was in my final year of university and I earned a recall to the national sevens team. We again had to work out the best fit with the team’s management.
The bottom line is that I have prioritized books over rugby…the lifespan of a sportsperson is very short…my injury taught me that hence my decision to further my education and also take a plunge into business.
It is an idea that I had from way back. It has been in existence since 2014. The inspiration came from my love for hip-hop music.
Many of these hip-hop artistes had a fashionable way of dressing and this really elicited my interest.
I was further intrigued by Senegalese-American hip-hop star Akon donning a Kenyan fashion brand during his visit to Kenya in the mid-2000s.
With this in mind, I started branding t-shirts, initially in high school before pitching the idea to do merchandise for the 2010 Dala Sevens hosted by Kisumu RFC. I continued to do t-shirts when I moved to KCB.
I always had this burning desire to have my own clothing brand but didn’t have a brand name.
The name Outlook was born out of a conversation with my brother. A few weeks later, and after soliciting for funds from my brothers, printed 50 t-shirts which sold out. That was my first sale…
I registered “The Outlook” as a business a few
months later. I initially focused on my brand and with time I have also been engaged in customizing merchandise for particular occasions. This has enabled me to expand my horizons and improve the quality of my products.
With its continued growth, I have had to engage a partner to ensure that the business is run in a professional manner as it has grown from a clothing outfit to a general supplies and merchandising entity.
Getting the right fit in place has been the biggest challenge. Getting the right personnel from tailors to suppliers and branding specialists to ensure that the end product is of top quality.
MOTIVATION AND ADVICE
Commenting on his motivation, Ojee says, ”The fear of failure motivates and pushes me to work hard to achieve whatever I have set out to.
It doesn’t mean I don’t embrace losses, I do. I embrace the loss, dust myself up and try again. I try to understand things better and do them differently.
And as he goes about his activities on and off the pitch, he says,” I am guided by three pillars – hard work, patience and perseverance.”
This article first appeared in the October 2020 edition of Game Live! You can read the full magazine here https://www.kru.co.ke/magazine/october-2020/