His playing mates call him ‘The Tractor’/ ‘Warrior’, a title fashioned by his aggressive style of play.
But Enoch Wamalwa, a rugby league star in Canada, is quite the opposite off-field, calm and collected.
In his fourteen-year stay in Canada, the 34-year-old rose from just a fan favourite in a local rugby league tournament to representing the Canadian national team, in the 2017 Rugby League World Cup qualifiers.
Narrating his rugby journey to The Scrummage, Wamalwa tied up all his success to the “tough, but fun” upbringing back in Kenya.
“I was born and raised in Ndalu Village, Tongaren Constituency, Bungoma County. It was a tough upbringing. I used to walk four kilometres to my school, Mapera DEB, without shoes. When not in school, we would be on the farm grazing cattle or doing manual labour in readiness for the maize planting or harvesting season. All this toughened me to become the man I am today,” the current Toronto City Saints prop said.
It was after he was seven years old, in 1994, when he first jetted out of the country to the United States of America.
He would later return back to Kenya years later, where he rejoined Mapera DEB from class four to later completing primary education.
In 1999, he again flew to the USA for his high school education at Newton High, and upon completion, he joined the United States International University (USIU) back in Kenya. It was at USIU that Wamalwa was first introduced to rugby.
“Going to USIU defined me. It was where I had my first rugby experience after switching from American Football. I fell in love with the game with my first practice. There were grueling days but I galvanized up and soon I was making first team. This was where I was nicknamed ‘The Tractor’ because I would just mow people out of my way,” he said.
“I later chose to pursue Rugby League because it brought out all my strengths. Having the opposition go back 10 meters meant I can attack at nearly full speed. This brought out my qualities perfectly,” he added.
Despite coming from a humble background that had toughened him up, Wamalwa revealed he had to dig deep to find other adaptable measures to counter the early setbacks at the onset of his career.
“Juggling between being a player and maintaining a full-time job was my biggest setback. I had to adapt fully in order to balance the two. I would use up vacations and constantly needed days off. I was fortunate that my boss was a huge fan and was supportive. I would have been much far in my career if I had fully concentrated on playing but I also needed a job. All those experiences shaped me into who I am, so no regrets,” he said.
In 2007, after graduating from USIU with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, Wamalwa moved to Canada in search of greener pastures. It was here that his rugby league career raved up.
With an already established rugby background, coupled with his passion for the game, Wamalwa joined Brampton Beaver, his first ever rugby league side, abroad.
His stay at Bampton lasted only a season, and in 2008, Wamalwa joined Toronto-based side Toronto Scottish Rugby Club.
“I found out about Bampton by online means. I later joined them for practice and it was not long before I was making their match day squad. Our last game of the season was against the Toronto Scottish who were moving up to the Marshall League, the highest provincial level. After the game, one of the Scottish players gave me his number and told me he would arrange for me to join the Scottish. A month later I moved to Toronto and joined the Scottish,” he said.
A successful tournament two years later at Toronto Scottish saw them reach the 2009/10 Provincial Cup finals, and it was here that Wamalwa caught the eye of the Canada national team recruiters, who would later select him in the World Cup Qualifiers squad.
Traversing back his humble career journey, Wamalwa revealed his selection to join the Canadian Rugby League national team became the epitome of his career.
But the best moment came after his name was announced in the Canadian squad for the Rugby League World Cup qualifiers.
“I made my first appearance for Canada against the USA (bitter sweet since I grew up in the USA). We have a series called the Colonial Cup and it gets really fired up. I was part of the team Canada that won the Colonial Cup for the very first time in history, I even managed to even score two tries. Later making it to the World Cup qualifiers squad became my best moment,” he said.
“At the qualifiers we fought hard and won tough matches only to lose in the final game at the final minute against the USA due to a bad decision. It was also the lowest point in my rugby career because every single player, including myself, gave everything. It was our chance to represent our country in the World Cup and we fell short,” he added, when mentioning his lowest career moment.
Wamalwa’s stay in Canada has seen him become a two-time North American Champion, a two-time Colonial Cup finalist and a McCormick Championship finalist.
In June 2020, Kenya was looking set to its first taste of Rugby League, with already significant signatories having been identified.
Former Kabras and Quins coach Charles Cardovillis had been appointed Kenya Rugby League Director, Former Kenya Sevens coach Benjamin Ayimba, Technical Director, and Edward Rombo the Kenya Rugby League head coach.
The Federation had also entered into a ten-year partnership deal with entertainment company Homeboyz Entertainment Limited, and Wamalwa believes these are significant steps towards the growth of Rugby League in Kenya.
“Rugby League is a sport that is growing rapidly and also becoming extremely lucrative. To hear my home country embracing the same is wonderful news. Not only will it serve as an alternative to Rugby Union, but it will also help in pumping new talents in the local rugby scene, so I really hope Kenyans can seize the opportunity to learn and play,” he said.
He further hinted on one day returning to Kenya to help in the growth of the game.
“My playing games are almost behind me, as I approach my mid-30s. But I can definitely pop in for an exhibition game and give a good 10 to 15 minutes for the boys at full power. It has always been in me to help in the growth of the game. I can certainly do my part in growing the game. It opened doors for me and I am sure it can do the same for many of our youth in Kenya,” he said.
Enoch Wamalwa’s Profile
Name: Enoch Wamalwa
Current Club: Toronto City Saints
Position: Center in Rugby Union, Prop in Rugby League
Achievements and Accolades: Playing for Canada Wolverines, North American Champion 2014, 2015, Colonial cup finalist 2012, 2013
In part two of his rugby journey, Wamalwa discusses about his take on the differences between the Kenya and Canadian rugby set up, how Kenya can improve their set up, and his project dubbed RugbyRebuilding that is helping needy kids back in his home village.