Top South African rower Athenkosi Hlekani has been appointed as the new assistant coach of the University of Johannesburg’s rowing team for the 2015/16 season.
The Port Alfred native, who commenced his coaching duties last month, said that he was excited to be leading a group of motivated and hardworking athletes.
“Their attitude has changed the dynamics of the club and has made it competitive again,” said the former UJ captain.
The 25-year-old said that the club was in the best shape the university had ever seen.
“There are proper structures in place and the vibe among the athletes is amazing. It is almost a different club,” he said.
Hlekani’s leadership abilities first caught the spotlight when he was selected to go to the Youth World Leadership camp, hosted by the United Nations Office on Sport for Development and Peace (UNOSDP), in Doha in Qatar three years ago.
Founder of the Nemato Change a Life youth empowerment organisation Jan Blom, through whom he learned to row, put in an application on his behalf and after two interviews Hlekani was chosen for the international course.
“It was a huge honour and privilege to take part in a camp which brings youth leaders from different parts of the world together,” said Hlekani.
“It was an opportunity for participants to share ideas and experiences of how sport has had an impact on their lives and how it can be used to help others,” he said.
Hlekani, who comes from a disadvantaged background and received a full sports scholarship to UJ, said being chosen for the UNOSDP course first put him on the path to his coaching career.
While completing his undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications at UJ, he was selected to coach a crew for the U16 SASRU development squad.
After graduating, Hlekani was recruited by Jeppe High School as their junior rowing coach, which later evolved into the position of head of rowing.
Wanting to learn more about coaching at tertiary level, he grabbed his latest opportunity to coach his alma mater.
“This was a big win for me. UJ has been my home for many years and there is nowhere better for me to learn about coaching.
“I felt it was also a form of giving back to my old club that has been so instrumental in getting me where I am today,” he said.
He said one of the top moments of his career had been the opportunity to race with the Oxford Alumni crew on two separate occasions.
He was also featured in a book by Jack Carlson title Rowing Blazers, which features Olympians, world champions and other star athletes.
Hlekani said he hoped to one day coach overseas but for now would be focusing on his university commitments.
With the sprint season over, the UJ crew is gearing up for the USSA rowing championship, which takes place in September.
“The team’s performance has been good. Looking at last season to now there have been some big improvements and we are looking forward to a strong season.”
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