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Eulogy: Geoffrey Githaiga, Strathmore Leos’ true warrior

By COLLINS NABISWA

When news broke out early Saturday morning that the longest serving Strathmore Leos scrumhalf Geoffrey Githaiga had passed on in a hit and run accident on Thursday morning on Langata Road, few believed it. Many took it as a practical joke. No, Geoff couldn’t die two days after his birthday.

“Sad news for the rugby fraternity as Strathmore Leos scrumhalf Geoffrey Githaiga passed away in a road accident on New Year’s Day. Awaiting an official statement from Strathmore University and the family. May his soul rest in eternal peace.”

This was the text that was doing rounds amongst the Kenyan rugby fraternity Whatsapp groups. The confirmation of an end to a young life. An end to an amazing rugby career.

Githaiga was not your run-of-the-mill rugby player. He wasn’t a 6 ft. 5 inches battering ram or a stern looking born to rule type. The former Mangu High School rugby captain was a diminutive jinking wizard who flitted in and out of tackles effortlessly. Standing only at 5 feet 5 inches and weighing 70kgs, he personified the Strathmore Leos warrior spirit, small in body but big in heart. He was a true warrior. A fighter.

The 28 year old scrumhalf has been eulogized as soft-spoken off the pitch but a hard bastard on it, the essence of humility and eschewed controversy.

“Geoff was a humble chap but when he spoke everyone listened,” current Leos captain Eric Kioko and a long time friend to Githaiga told Nairobi News.

Kioko first played with Githaiga back in 2004 in Mangu. He remembers him as a courageous and charismatic captain on and off the pitch.

“He was a year a head when I started playing the game. Despite his small size, he was chosen to be the captain in his final year. I’ve not only lost a teammate but a great friend,” he said.

TRUE LEADER

The former Kenya U19 international had posted an emotional message on his Facebook profile about losing two of his captains, Githaiga and the late Joshua Gathumbi.

“Josh Tariq Gathumbi baba captain courageous Geoffrey Githaiga ni kama amefika huko. Two wazimba captains with the angels. In line with the Wazimba slogan, it’s only right we chant now, “Wazimba we have!! In good or in bad we give thanks to the Lord!!!!” He wrote.

The late Geoffrey Githaiga in the colours of Strathmore Leos rugby team.
The late Geoffrey Githaiga in the colours of Strathmore Leos rugby team.

Gathumbi was a former Mangu High School captain. By the time of his death in 2010, he was turning out for Impala RFC and Kenya national sevens team.

Maurice Mbai, Githaiga’s former classmate at Strathmore University and a teammate, also took to Facebook to express his sorrow.

He wrote: “I am still in denial as my heart bleeds. How do you say goodbye to a friend you have known for fifteen years? A friend who has sat next to you in campus for four years? Who has walked the campus corridors with you for four years? Who has fought numerous battles with you in the pitch? Who has shared many losses and victories with you? Who is the only individual who has kept the Leos dream alive even when many gave up on it? Who has been an advisor? A brother? Well I choose not to say goodbye. I choose to keep you close in my heart and remember the good things you stood for. Many will measure your height, many will measure your weight but few measure your heart it is what has made you a leader among men. You have given many hope with the mere fact that brain and brawn mean nothing if you don’t have heart. You have been a symbolizing factor that speaks to many that whoever you are tall, short, small, fat that this sport that is played in heaven has a place for you. I will mourn you for many years to come my dear friend but I choose not to say goodbye but rather see you later brave man. In your soft spoken words that you said to me many times and made me believe, ‘there is a drop of greatness in every man.’ Dance with the angels my friend and say a big hallo to Gathumbi. John 15:13 XXVII”

Mitch Ocholla, the Leos tactician, described Githaiga a true leader and a visionary. “He was well disciplined and defied all odds to not only play rugby, but good quality rugby,” he told Daily Nation Sports.

“You would have not found a kinder heart, a more fun yet composed personality, a braver soul or a more dedicated warrior than was in this man Geoffrey Githaiga. How the Almighty fitted all these and more in such a small frame still baffles me,” wrote blogger and rugby pundit Peter “Poghie” Ndonga in his blog, OSBKE.

TOOK BIG HITS

Going through emotional tributes on social media, you get a picture of someone loved by many. It says everything about the impact made by Githaiga on the local rugby scene. He has been a great loss not only to the Leos fraternity but to even his alma mater. He’s been mourned by his Mangu School teammates where he started playing the game as a leader and an inspiration.

Githaiga did not let his small stature get into the way when he stepped on the rugby pitch. He has taken many big hits that would have condemned any lily-livered footballer into early retirement. During the 2014/2015 Kenya Cup playoff against KCB RFC in Nakuru, he took down John Ahenda who was in full flight preventing a certain try. In the same game, his stubborn and persistent tackling got in the way of Kenya Sevens captain Andrew Amonde who grabbed by the collar and threw him on the ground raising a cloud of black dust. Githaiga stood up, dusted himself and shouted, “Wasee bado!!”

The most memorable hit he took was during Hima 10s in Kampala when he stepped infront a full flight 120-kg Edwin Shimenga, went low, put out his small shoulder and absorbed full impact of the collision. He stopped the big man. As usual, he was quickly on his feet and shuffling to the next breakdown.

“It was this bullish character that was most striking in him. He would often take matters into his own hands and go for a gap between two guys almost twice his size. A whole stand would cringe, but like clockwork he would stand up, dust up and be at the next breakdown ready to pull the strings,” Ndonga eulogises.

He took many hits from players almost twice his size and weight. It can only be compared to the famous hit that diminutive Springboks scrumhalf Joost van der Westhuizen took while stopping a marauding Jonah Lomu in 1995 Rugby World Cup semifinal in Johannesburg.

Githaiga has been with Strathmore Leos almost from the start of the second renaissance in 2005 to date. He helped the students gain promotion to Kenya Cup in 2007. He won the National Sevens Series in 2009, and later was instrumental in helping Leos bag a hat trick of Nakuru 10s titles from 2009 to 2011. He has also won the Impala Floodlit tournament in 2011 as well as Dala 7s Main Cup in 2013.

He captained Leos to their first ever Kenya Cup finals in 2013 at Kasarani Stadium losing to Nakuru RFC. His last game for his club was against Mwamba RFC on December 19, 2015 at Jamhuri Park. They lost 11-19.

He graduated from Strathmore University in 2010 with Bachelors of Commerce in Finance and Accounting. He was a banker by profession and a devout Catholic who fellowshiped at Our Lady Queen of Peace in Nairobi’s South B suburb. He was third born in a family of five siblings.

We only hope that you joined the heavenly team of Gathumbi, Mwamba’s Leeroy Okara and the big blokes from All Blacks Jonah Lomu and Jerry Collins. Go well my friend. Dance with angels, XXVII!