From football to flying airplanes

By Michael Uugwanga

FROM playing rugby, cricket to football and soon to become a pilot, this is the untold journey of 26-year-old Carmel Don, who iscurrently in South Africa while waiting for the situation in that country to normalise in order for her to obtain her qualification as a pilot.

Don hails from Khomasdal in Windhoek, where rugby is one of the most popular sport codes and where almost every kid growing up in that environment is exposed to rugby.

She joined football on the invitation of former Brave Gladiators coach, now general manager for women football in the country and FIFA instructor Jacqueline Shipanga, who at the time was scouting for female footballing talent.

Shipanga is the brain behind the establishment of the women football league today known as the Skorpion Zinc Women Football League that was set to resume in March before it was cancelled due to the current state of emergency.

Don is the daughter of former Welwitschias coach and executive member of Western Suburbs Rugby Club Walter Don, who has a son that is also a pilot.

“I started playing football roughly around the age of nine and 10 with my brother and his friends in the streets of Khomasdal. I would say … that [I] started liking football. I firmly believe you have to be passionate about something, as it will determine your contentment and tenacity to become the very best in your chosen profession.

“I am currently in the process of obtaining my Commercial Pilot License (Multi engine rating) at Rand Airport, South Africa. I attended my primary school at Holy Cross Convent, while I completed my secondary school at Windhoek Gymnasium Private School.

“Interestingly enough, I played rugby as well in the street, my father wasn’t too keen on his princess playing such a physical sport amongst boys. Back then girls’ rugby teams were nonexistent and we were still stigmatised. My father was and still is my biggest supporter on and off the field in my career. Every game day he would have an Energade sport drink and an orange waiting for me during half-time,” she said.

Don was part of the Brave Gladiators team that toured Germany in 2011 alongside familiar faces such as Zenatha Coleman, Lovisa Mulunga Mammie Kasaona and Veweziwa Kotjiopati to mention a few, in the process of  building Namibia’s good relations with the German football federation.

Don, who plays as a striker, has a similar style of play to that of former Brave Warriors goal poacher Floris Diergaardt, who used to play for Khomasdal-based team Civics in the Namibia Premier League. Diergaardt was slow off the mark but clinical in the box, which is why he was regarded as one of the best finishers in the country, similar to Don who does not have the pace but a good eye for goal.

Although her commitment to her education takes priority over her football career, Don still plays indoor football, which is a sign that she is still passionate about the game. She was also a beneficiary of the FNB Kwata Cricket programme run by Cricket Namibia to develop the sport at grassroots level.

Another important person that Don said played a key role in her football career is the head of women football in Namibia, Jacky Gertze as well as her friend Lena Noreses.

She encouraged the youth to focus on their studies as sport in the country is not yet professionalised, like in most countries.

“I still play indoor football with guys every Sunday in South Africa. I am planning to get back to playing football again once I return to Namibia. I was in the stages of completing my Commercial Pilot License; unfortunately the pandemic hit South Africa and delayed my final CPL testing date.

“I do miss playing football such as the thrill, the butterflies and the camaraderie in the locker room before a crucial match. I am content with my profession and wouldn’t want to change it. I would however consider playing part-time for the Orlando Pride women’s team in America, because their style of play and the caliber of players in the team is phenomenal.

“Jacky Gertze and Jacqueline (Shipanga) have been instrumental in the development of women’s football in Namibia and have played vital roles in providing a platform for young girls to accomplish their dreams. I have gained lifelong friendships and been fortunate enough to be trained by class trainers in Namibia and Germany.

“One of my close friends Lena Noreses and I were granted the opportunity to play overseas in Germany for a few months.

“I do home workouts and boxing five times a week in order to keep my muscles and mind active. I believe education and football have the ability to drastically decrease unemployment and poverty rates in Africa, if it is correctly implemented. “If you are able to wake up every morning, you still have a purpose to fulfil… If you want something to change, change it yourself,” she said.