Kenyan Rugby player Dennis Ombachi tells the story of how he successfully maneuvered in a competitive sport while dealing with bipolar disorder.
For many athletes, scoring a goal in the last seconds of the match and winning that match is a feat many people do not forget. It symbolizes an athlete’s willingness to beat the odds. Hence, many people’s memories stick with the moment. When he scored a buzzer-beater for the Kenyan rugby team, they clinched a victory that led them to qualify for the Olympic Rugby Sevens event.
“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 helped his team when they competed in Rio, where they competed with some of the best rugby teams in the world. Kenyan’s success in the league made them a regular in the HSBC Rugby Sevens Series. However, at the height of his sports career, Ombachi sustained an injury in his leg, rendering him unable to play for the team for the rest of the year. But unbeknownst to many, Ombachi faced a far more challenging problem than his broken leg: his mental health.
“Bones and muscles eventually do heal. But what I didn’t factor in was the mental toll it was going to take on me and which dragged on, even up to now that I still suffer a bit from it,” the Kenyan star said.
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Ombachi dealing with a disorder
Ombachi’s severe injury to the leg made him stay confined inside his house. Eventually, the rugby star attempted to take his life. Fortunately, his family and friends stayed with him and strongly advised him to check his mental health. That was when he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, characterized by depressive lows, manic highs, and episodes of psychosis. Apart from his support system, cooking helped him with his mental condition.
“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 an inspiration
For many people who love cooking, who could ever miss the legendary Gordon Ramsay? And it seemed that Ombachi developed a fondness for Ramsay’s cooking and execution 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 found his way back into the sport. However, the pandemic hindered him from fully realizing his career in sports. And now, it is back inside his home. But TikTok gave him another chance to change and find an inspiration to keep going. Ombachi posted a video of himself cooking and distributing it to children on the street in Nairobi. The video has over 15 million views 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. “