Ellina Mhlanga in LIVERPOOL, England
FOR Gems’ goal-shooter, Pauline Jani, her 30th birthday came at a crucial moment in her netball career and will remain one of those special moments she would want to re-live over and over again.
The tall goal-shooter turned 30 yesterday, two days before the Zimbabwe senior national team make their historical appearance at the Vitality Netball World Cup.
“I am delighted to be celebrating my birthday in Liverpool at a time when we are focusing on our game against Sri Lanka on Friday. So I am so happy and thankful to my teammates, they woke up early just to wish me a happy birthday. So I am grateful.
“As part of the celebrations I would really like us to win against Sri Lanka. So we are going for victory on Friday, that’s my wish,” said Jani.
Born on July 10, 1989, in Hippo Valley, Jani has come a long way with the senior team having joined the side when she was just a teenager.
She has been turning out for the Gems for the past 12 years.
Jani has played for several clubs in Zimbabwe including Gaths Mine, which was her first club in 2009, when she was still in high school at Pamushana.
The other clubs include Shangani Mine, Railstars and now she is with the police outfit, Mambas Queens.
Just like any other athlete, Jani has a dream and would want something tangible from her participation at the world stage.
“I am praying for victory in all our games. I would want us to win as many games as possible. I am hoping us being here in Liverpool for the World Cup will bring some changes in our lives.
“We have come far with netball, from when things were tough and we could not do much for ourselves because we didn’t have much. But now I look forward to this event changing our lives, so that when we go back home we can do something for ourselves.
“If I could build a house for myself, that’s what I am wishing for. I lost my parents when I was young and I am hoping that when we win, we get financial rewards and make something out of ourselves.
“I am also hoping to get that opportunity to be signed by foreign clubs. I have been working hard with that in mind,” said Jani.
After losing her parents in 2006, she had to take care of her younger brother Mike and herself which was not an easy task and says that fighting spirit that saw her standing the most difficult time of her life has kept her going on and off the court.
“I have always had this fighting spirit. I had always wanted to play for the national team and coach Menfree (Tanyanyiwa) used to encourage me to keep going. At some point I wanted to quit netball because being young sometimes you feel like you are being taken for granted. But he kept on encouraging me. “Some of the challenges included the pressure of taking care of my brother because then he was still young when my parents passed away. So sometimes I could not leave him alone but now he has grown up,” said Jani.
One of the best moments in her career was being voted player of the tournament at the African Championships in South Africa in 2010. Jani looks up to the Gems captain Perpetua Siyachitema as they share a close bond and the latter had this to say about her.
“With Pauline Jani she isn’t just a player or a friend to me. She is my young sister, we are so close. We are like real sisters because I have known her since 2008. She is a sweet girl, a sweet kid.
“I am just happy because I saw her when she was starting netball and where she is now, she is an amazing young woman. I am so proud of her. I wish her many more netball playing years,” said Siyachitema.
Tanyanyiwa described the 30-year-old national team player as a fighter.
“I think being here at the World Cup is an excellent achievement for Pauline. It is really the first prize, like an award for the journey and tough journey that she has had to travel on her own.
“I have known her since she was a teenager. While one can always say I have helped her along,
I think that the biggest fighter is the player herself, the odds that she has had to surmount to be where she is, I think she is a fighter,” said Tanyanyiwa.