Aiming for the bull’s eye: The girl who put the Anwar family on top of the world

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Shehzana flew to Rio to represent Kenya in the Olympic Games, she also carried with her expectations of a family with a great sporting tradition.

Kenya’s Shehzana Anwar shoots an arrow during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games Women’s competition at the Sambodromo archery venue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on August 8, 2016. PHOTO | AFP

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In Shehzana Anwar’s eyes, it is not just a Kenyan flag she was carrying as she led the country’s Olympics team into the Maracana Stadium during the August 6 opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro (August 5 in Brazil).
She was seeing fulfilment, acceptance and a sense of responsibility at the same time. Going to the Olympics as the best female archer in Africa, there was a lot on her mind.

“I felt like the whole country had been put into my hands,” she told Lifestyle on Wednesday, a few days after returning from Rio after being eliminated in the second stage of the archery competition.
“To finally have the flag in my hands, it was the first time I have truly felt like people had finally admitted that I’m a true Kenyan,” she added. “I’ve struggled a lot with competing due to my colour, obviously. A lot of people believe Kenyans should be black.”

What may not have been apparent to the 27-year-old is that, symbolically, she was also carrying on the family legacy of legendary Safari rally driver Azar Anwar, the three-time national rally champion.
She is the third born of Azar’s four children — who appear to have inherited their father’s love for adrenaline-drawing sporting activities — and for now she holds the credit of being the most successful sportsperson in the Anwar lineage.
Kenya’s flag bearer Shehzana Anwar leads her national delegation during the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro on August 5, 2016. Shehzana flew to Rio to represent Kenya in the Olympic Games, she also carried with her expectations of a family with a great sporting tradition. PHOTO | AFP

“Even if the whole family has been in motorsport for years, it’s something none of us has ever dreamed of achieving. Let’s say she’s set a benchmark for us,” said Shazar, Shehzana’s eldest brother.

Their father Azar became a household name during the heyday of car racing, vrooming into Kenya’s hall of fame for his exploits in various competitions. Since 1979, he has been participating in various motorsport events, using vehicles like the Datsun 160J, Daihatsu Charade, Opel Kadett, Subaru Wagon, Daewoo 1.5, Mitsubishi Evo 6, among others. Some of his most notable achievements include emerging the overall winner in the 1994 Sanyo Rally, leading the pack at the Two-Litre World Rally Championship Safari Rally in 1995 and outdriving all other competitors in the 1998 Kenya National Championship.

“My biggest result, I would say, was winning the Safari Rally. And we were probably the only indigenous Kenyan team to have done that. My navigator was George Mwangi,” Mr Azar said.

At 62, Azar has quit rally racing (“not because I can’t but because I don’t have enough money”) but he is still competing in local car races.He is the 2015 champion of the autocross championship, a competition that brings about 40 entrants.When he spoke to Lifestyle on Thursday, he was preparing for a round of the autocross championship scheduled to be held in Nanyuki this weekend. Azar and his wife of 33 years, Tabassum, have raised their children to be sports junkies.
Legendary Safari rally driver Azar Anwar, the three-time national rally champion. PHOTO | COURTESY


From interviews with various family members, it became apparent that the Anwars could well book a place in the league of sporting families in Kenya. The families include the Wanyama lineage that has the captain of the Kenyan football team, Victor Wanyama. Other footballing talents stemming from Noah Wanyama, Victor’s father who was a footballer himself, include McDonald Mariga, and Thomas and Sylvester Wanyama. The family also has players in basketball and volleyball. In the Anwar family, the eldest son Shazar has developed an interest in racing quad bikes — more like motorcycles on four wheels.

“I’ve ridden in the national championship since 2004 and I wasn’t able to win until 2007. Since then, I’ve won seven national championships,” said Shazar, 31.

Competing on quad bikes, he said, takes nerves of steel as it involves cruising on rough terrains where participants have never ridden on before, using the global positioning system to find one’s way.

“I have always got that extra adrenaline fix when riding quad bikes,” he said.

Shazar’s younger sister Sanna, 28, says she is more into art than sport, though she is also as sport-minded as the rest of the family.

“I am considered one of the sporty people in my friends’ circles. The difference with me is that I dabble in a little of everything,” she said.

Like all her siblings, she has tried her hand in a number of sports. Among them are car and quad bike racing, archery, squash, hockey, netball and athletics. In her school days at Visa Oshwal Academy and Loreto Msongari then at the University of Nairobi, she participated in a number of activities.

“As much as I like to cook and bake cakes I am still very much an outdoors person. I enjoy hiking and extreme sports. I’ve successfully climbed both Mt Kenya and Mt Kilimanjaro and I am looking forward to going again soon,” she said.

Shehzana, the archer, is next after Sanna in the Anwar family. Shehzana considers herself a sports addict who, in her school days, would rather be out playing than dealing with academics.

“I was never a books person in school. While all the other girls wanted to study and get their 98 and 100 per cent in exams, I was busy playing football or basketball with the boys in the backfield,” she recalled.
Shehzana Anwar is welomed by her family at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport when she arrived from 2016 Rio Olympics on August 12, 2016. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO

“My mother is not very proud of it, but I skipped a lot of classes to play instead. I was sportswoman of the year twice in high school at Oshwal Academy, in 2007 and 2008.”

She added: “I was one of the few girls who would participate in a lot of events during sports day. I was also in most of the sports teams. I was in the hockey team, the football team, the basketball team. I was the most valuable player in hockey for two years in a row.” She discovered her love for archery when she was 14 years old during a family outing at a recreational club in Nairobi.

“As a child, I’d always played with bows and arrows. I would cut down my mother’s trees and I’d make my own bows, play Robin Hood at home. We used to watch a lot of Robin Hood as kids. When we came across it as an actual sport, my parents encouraged me to try it,” she said.

Archery involves using a bow and arrow to aim at distant targets. In the Olympics, the player stands 70 metres from the target that has a diameter of 1.2 metres, which has rings marked around the centre to facilitate the awarding of points. The closer the arrow hits centre, the more points a player earns.


The game captured Shehzana’s imagination so much that, three years after the outing, she was in an international competition. Since then, she has participated in a number of challenges and as of Wednesday, she was at position 195 in global rankings. From 2010, she had taken part in the African Archery Championships, which are held every two years. Her biggest achievement in the competition was in Namibia in February when she beat all other African participants to win a slot in the Olympics.

“I won the gold and qualified for the Olympics and then that was six months before the Olympics and that is when archery fully took over my life,” she said, noting that she was laid off from her job as an administrator at a Karen-based firm partly because of the long time she spent away from work.

The lastborn in the Anwar household is Shabhaz, an 18-year-old currently studying Commerce at Strathmore University.His remarks on his school days give a sense of déjà vu.

“I was happier on the field than in the classroom most of my high school life,” he recalls. “My favourite sport during high school was hockey, but I played a lot of football, basketball. Mostly, I was an all-rounder. Athletics as well. I didn’t really stick to one sport.”

Currently, Shabhaz is engaged in a dangerous cycling sport that involves riding on mountainous areas. It is a sport that has, in the words of his sister Shehzana, bruised the faces of many participants.

“Out of all his friends, I think he is the one who has — touch wood — fallen the least. I know his friends have fallen and have stitch marks and God-knows-what … It’s also because he’s pretty tough. He’s actually a pretty tough kid, to be honest,” said Shehzana.

You will find Shabhaz riding through very steep sections of Mt Kenya with friends, and he believes he will make Kenyans embrace a type of mountain riding called enduro that “is very big in the world but it hasn’t developed yet in Kenya.”

“It’s fuelled by gravity; so it’s mostly downhill, and it’s very technically rough: big rocks, big jumps, very narrow cliffs and stuff like that. Why it hasn’t developed much in Kenya is because, obviously, safety and security in Kenya is not the best,” said Shabhaz.

As the Anwars pursue various interests in what could make them another celebrated sporting family, the one woman who takes the credit is the mother of the family, Tabassum — whose name loosely translates to “smile”.

“She has been the pillar of the Anwars in racing, in competition, in whatever type. And she is so warm, big-hearted and so generous,” said her husband Azar. “Without her, I feel none of us, including me, could have achieved what we have achieved.”

Tabassum told Lifestyle that she has leant to defy the anxiety that comes with her loved ones participating in dangerous sports.All their children, including the not-so-outgoing second born, have previously taken part in automotive races. In one competition, Shehzana was the car driver and her elder sister Sanna was the navigator.

“I now know what my mother-in-law felt when Azar was rallying. I feel the same with my children now,” she said. “You get scared but then you have to give in and leave it to God.”


Tabassum is also Shehzana’s coach, which has seen mother and daughter travel the world in pursuit of archery glory. She said that the reason their children have grown to be adventurous in sport is because they were allowed to participate in whichever game they pleased.

“I have not chosen any of the sports for them … I know many mothers and, of course, their question is, ‘How do you let them do it?’ You just got to let them be. If they’re that passionate about it and I stop them, they’ll still go and do it behind my back,” she said.

Azar said his approach has been to be there for his children.

“I gave them the best education I could but I didn’t push them that they must become the best; I said, ‘Do also other things. Do sports in schools,’” he said.

He added: “They’ve usually done very well in sports in school. They’ve been winning things. But you notice we are all doing different things. I never push them to my direction. I let them enjoy what they want but I challenge them and I expose them to trying to do well.” Tabassum said Azar goes out of his way to ensure his children get the competitive edge in their sports. She said that spent about Sh2 million to ensure Shehzana had the right training before she could attend the Olympics. The equipment that Shehzana used in Rio cost more than Sh200,000. However, Shehzana said, the arrows she used were second-best, which could have been one of the reasons she did not shine in Rio. She equally had muscle pain in her shoulder. That, coupled with the windy conditions at the arena, made her lose to a Korean opponent who went ahead to win bronze medal. But Azar has not been spending on Shehzana alone. He parted with Sh100,000 last year to buy a bicycle for his lastborn, and he has previously bought vehicles for his other sons to remodel into the competition cars they wanted.

“He’s never stopped any of the children in anything. Even Shazar, if you ask him, he’s never been stopped in his racing,” she said.

Azar, who graduated from the University of Nairobi as an engineer in the mid-1970s, has been running the Auto Docs garage at Nairobi’s Upper Hill area since 1984, which is fully run by his family. This has been one of his income sources alongside training upcoming rally drivers. His family is keen to make Shehzana claim global glory in archery, and his wife knows that their daughter is destined for greater things.

“The whole experience of what she has achieved has made us very proud. Her father and I are both very proud of her achievement. We know she is not gonna just finish it here; she’s gonna go further,” said Tabassum.

The family was watching the Olympics opening ceremony from home, though most of them missed the moment she showed up because of a nationwide blackout that happened on the morning of August 6.

“I remember we were sitting up the whole time just watching; because we expect Kenya, “K” to be up. Kumbe they spelled them all in Portuguese. So, we were just sitting there wondering, ‘Why has this country come before ours?’” said Shazar.

Shehzana noted: “They followed the English alphabet but they spelled Kenya in Portuguese, which means Kenya starts with a “Q”. So, out of 207, we were the 154th country where otherwise we could have been much more in front.”

When she finally got the chance to lead the Kenyan team to the stadium, a feat last done by swimmer Jason Dunford in the 2012 Olympics, she was beside herself with joy.

“It was an absolute honour and even my father himself said he had never seen such a big smile on my face as I had on that day when I walked onto the arena with the flag in my hands,” Shehzana said.

Haiya! Kwani arrivals imebadilika aye??

Shehzana Anwar ali leta medal gani ?
Nice story.

maneno ya mishale inahitaji mkamba.