Mphatso Chiphwanya: Special Olmpics star tennis player

Her friends and tennis playmates call her Genuine for her good English, but her birth name is Mphatso Chiphwanya.

She is the only Special Olympics tennis player in the country.

Flashback: Chiphwanya(C) shares a light moment with her American ‘teammates’

Mphatso has three medals to her name, which she won at the Special Olympics Games in the United States of America in 2015.

She has a gold medal she won as a unified tennis player, a bronze medal she won as a single player and another gold one which Mphatso received as the only African athlete at the games.

The young star also has other gold medals from the Malawi Special Olympics games.

“Tennis is my favourite game. I like participating in games and not losing,” Mphatso says while adding that she always trains hard to be on top of her game.

Born on September 15 1995 at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH) in Blantyre to Evance and Evelyn Chiphwanya, Mphatso started playing tennis when she was in primary school, according to her father.

“She started training for tennis when she was very young and at St Pius Primary School. There is a special programme at Blantyre Youth Centre (BYC) which focuses on training children and that is where she started,” he says.

The 23-year-old was born with intellectual disability. Being the only Special Olympics tennis player in the country, it is hard for her to find playing partners and she is forced to practise with other tennis players who do not have disabilities.

The young woman- who looks up to professional tennis player Serena Williams as a role model- says she owes her local and international accolades to her persistent practice with advanced players from Blantyre.

Jane Chapomba is a member of the advanced players and secretary of Team Loving Tennis who train with Mphatso.

She describes her as an amazing tennis player.

“As advanced players, we formed a group called Team Loving Tennis. Most of us have been in the game and representing Malawi for many years. So, for us to help Mphatso, we practise with her to better her game. She has made tremendous improvement with time.

“She is an amazing player and is going back to United States of America (USA) to play at Paralympics,” she said.

Mphatso says she looks forward to the World Special Olympics Games in the USA to bring back more medals.

Her coach, Bannet Nanthambwe, agrees that her performance has improved a lot from the time she started.

“Her father likes playing basketball, so, he would bring her along whenever he came for training at BYC. I have been training her since the time she started, when she was little and I have seen her improve a lot.

“Certainly, as a special needs person, we cannot compare her performance with others. But as her coach, I have learnt to always guide her because sometimes she loses focus while in the game,” he explains.

Her family members describe her as a loving and friendly young woman, usually greeting people with a high five and a hug.

Younger sister Angellina says she is a very interactive person who likes to tell jokes.

While echoing Angellina’s sentiments, her father adds that she likes tennis more than anything else.

First born of three girls, Mphatso has been playing tennis for over 10 years now as she started when she was 12 years old.

The tennis enthusiast is awaiting results for the Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) which she wrote from St Pius Secondary School in Blantyre.

She trains five days a week at BYC whenever she is on holidays and only trains on weekends during school calendar.

Among other challenges, Mphatso says she lacks tennis playing materials such as tennis balls, rackets and uniforms.

She dreams of one day becoming a business woman or a journalist.

When she is not in school or playing tennis, Mphatso says she likes to sit and talk with her parents.

She also says that as a Christian, she likes going to church and is a member of St Columba CCAP.

While commending Mphatso’s parents for ensuring that she excelled in sports, her coach calls on parents with special needs children to emulate the example of the Chiphwanya’s to take a keen interest in their children so that they can find their niche.

He further appeals to anyone who can help Mphatso explore even further her tennis skills to come forward.

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