Dennis Ombachi, a Kenyan rugby player, describes how he handled his bipolar disorder while partaking in a competitive sport.
For many athletes, winning a game by scoring a goal in the final seconds of play is an accomplishment many will never forget. It represents an athlete’s desire to overcome the odds. As a result, the moment stays in many people’s memories. He made a buzzer-beater goal for the Kenyan rugby team to secure a victory and qualify for the Olympic Rugby Sevens competition.
“I really can’t remember much. What I remember is getting the hooter and hearing the coaches, the late Benjamin Ayimba [Kenya’s head coach] and the technical bench just screaming Omba, Omba!” he recalled.
Ombachi assisted his group while they competed in Rio against some of the top rugby teams in the world. Kenya became a frequent participant in the HSBC Rugby Sevens Series thanks to their league success. However, Ombachi suffered a leg injury at the height of his athletic career, preventing him from participating in team activities for the rest of the year. Unbeknownst to many, Ombachi had a much more serious issue than just a broken leg: his mental health.
“Bones and muscles eventually do heal. But what I didn’t factor in was the mental toll it would take on me and which dragged on, even up to now that I still suffer a bit from it,” the Kenyan star said.
How Ombachi coped with the problem
The rugby star attempted to end his life. He received a bipolar disorder diagnosis at that time, characterized by manic highs, depressive lows, and psychotic episodes. Aside from his network of supporters, cooking supported him in managing his mental illness.
“My love of food is intertwined with playing rugby because it started when playing the HSBC legs. You tour close to 18 countries a year, and all of these countries, have their own culture, languages and food. So we used to eat different kinds of foods,” Ombachi said.
“I used to come back home and challenge myself to try and create some of the different dishes I had here and there. I think that’s how the passion grew,” he added.
Finding a pastime
Who could ever underestimate the legendary Gordon Ramsay, according to many foodies? And it appeared that Ombachi grew to appreciate Ramsay’s cooking and skill in the kitchen.
“Through his YouTube channel, I understood the fundamentals, the principles and how to use your tastebuds. That’s what got me through most of my depressive moments, especially when I was injured,” he said happily.
“In cooking, Gordon Ramsay was my mentor, although he doesn’t know about it.”
Ombachi eventually managed to get himself back into the game. However, he could not fully realize his sporting career due to the pandemic. As a result, the location has been brought back to his house. He was given another chance to change and find motivation thanks to TikTok. Ombachi uploaded a video of himself preparing food and giving it to kids on the streets of Nairobi. Over 15 million people have watched the video on TikTok.
“I think this [cooking for street kids] comes from when I was in high school. There was a time when I was a little depressed and lost. So I decided to run away from school. I knew I didn’t want to go home. So I ran away and was a street kid for a week.”
“I made lots of street kid friends, and it made me understand and empathize with them, that they are regular human beings just going through the same problems as all of us. My opportunities are just better than theirs. ”
Photo Credit: Anthony Wallace