The Legends Chronicles – Tito Oduk Chapter.
When the final whistle filled the air at the RFUEA grounds on the evening of Saturday, 6th April 2013, it did not only bring an end to the Enterprise Cup Final. It also drew the curtains on an illustrious career that spanned 20 years, the career of one Tito Oduk.
At 35 years, Tito Oduk, the Business Development Manager for Redline Interiors and Construction Ltd called it a day on a well decorated rugby career.
Tito started playing rugby in 1993 in Form 1, at the Alliance High School as a small back plying the back three, on that Saturday he had started at number 8 for Mwamba RFC. I sat down with Tito or ‘Chuma ya reli’ as I like to call him, and he took me through this well decorated 20 year journey.
A journey that has taken him from Mwamba RFC to Mean Machine, Kenya Harlequins and back to Mwamba all the way to New Zealand and back again. During this journey he has managed to accumulate 12 caps for the Kenya 15’s and a cabinet full of medals.
Tito’s talent was evident from the start, breaking into the school team in Form 2 at the competitive Alliance High School, during this period he was arguably the best player in the then central province. During the same period the likes of Mitch Ocholla, Charles Cardovillis and Paul Odera were plying their trade in different schools in the capital.
After high school he joined Mwamba RFC in 1997, where he broke into the first team in his first year. His first match was against Quins II at the Railways Club, in the ESS. The black shirts were fighting for promotion to the Kenya Cup in that year. They were to earn this promotion the next year in 1998, owing in large part to performances from Tito. That year he scored a little over 100 points and with that predictably won the ESS league’s MVP.
Off the pitch he remembers that this stint at Kulabu introduced him to the ‘cooler ‘side of life, “I remember I dyed my hair gold for an away game in Kisumu. I went to a disco for the first time with John Pablo Machanje and was shocked to see men and women dancing. Also during this time, 1997 I drank beer without having to look around in fear of being caught.”
Just when things were looking up at Mwamba, Tito joined the University Of Nairobi in 1999 and consequently had to move club to Mean Machine. Alongside the likes of Caleb Langat , Moses Kola, Auka Gecheo, Fred Jura, Mwirigi Kinagwi and Sasha Mutai among others. He says this is where he enjoyed his rugby most, “It was a crazy enjoyable time, the guys I played with then are still my closest friends to date. “ He credits his stint at Machine with his work ethic, “I learned my hard work ethic there as we had to compete with much bigger sides.”
|Tito at Machine, standing third from left.|
For the Eschuma Tito initially turned up at Wing or at either centres before he settled at inside centre. His most memorable match during his four years at the University came in 2002, against Impala in the Kenya Cup. Machine won the match 6-5, “I believe this was my breakthrough game into the big time.” He adds. Apart from that match, the intervarsity games and Hima 10’s were always memorable.
After graduating in 2003 with a Bachelor of Commerce degree in Management Science, “Upper Second Class Honours,” he adds proudly. It was time for Tito to move on, to the Kenya Harlequins. Here playing with the likes of Joel Nganga, Vincent Ongera, Papa, Jude Thumbi, Daniel Kiptoo, Leslie Libasia, Kiragu Ngunya and others, he won his first major trophy, the Kenya Cup in 2003. This was quickly followed up by the Super Series and Enterprise Cups in the same year.
The year 2003 remains his most eventful year in rugby, it’s no wonder his most memorable game for Quins was played in the same year. The Kenya Cup Final against fierce rivals Impala in which Quins won 18-15, he only has four words to describe that match, “The Action Was Insane!!” In the same year he finished as top points scorer in the Kenya Cup and Super Series, he retained that title in the 2004 Super Series.
In 2008, after five years at Quins, with playing time quickly fading and the departure of then club Chairman Ham Onsado it was time to go back to where all the action started, at the Railways Club with Mwamba RFC. “I didn’t think I fitted in the team culture once Ham Onsando stopped being the Chairman. I was perceived to be too close to him since I worked for him. As an Independent who has no time for cliques that was it for me..all I wanted to do was play rugby.”
He also mentions that Rombo had kept urging him to come back to Mwamba, “ Rombo kept pressurizing me to go back to Mwamba saying they would get me fit again, and they did, so in the end common sense prevailed.”
“Moving back to Mwamba was easy, as they are an easy going bunch, I had to catch up on the lingo and fitness though.”
As fate would have it, Mwamba would meet Quins in the 2008 Floodies final, “It was bloody personal,” He says, after the final whistle sounded, Mwamba were crowned champions after a 18-15 win. In that game, Tito scored 8 points for his side, including the match winning penalty in the 79th minute from the right corner, where the Quins supporters sit. “It was like a movie” he says. The next year in 2009 Tito finished as top points scorer in the Kenya Cup, a feat he repeated the following year.
In 2011, Tito had the opportunity to travel to New Zealand for 6 weeks. His trip entailed attending the Crusader International High Performance Unit. “It involved attending all Sader training sessions, up to 3 a day, classes and clinics watching all their home games and being attached to a club.”
Tito was attached to Lincoln University and St. Bedes College, notable teammates being Sam Whitelock, Robbie Fruean and Jordan Taufua. “Basically I was chilling with akina McCaw , Carter and Dagg daily.” It was a real life presentation on how a professional team operates.
|Tito in action for Lincoln University.|
On his return, Tito decided to pick up his boots one more time as a player/coach, when I asked what led to this decision, he said, “After having a run in NZ, I realised my body was up to it. When you get to run with the wider crusaders training group, and shown dust, your body tends to get quite fit. I felt I could give it one more go, and we had a good chance of winning the Kenya Cup something i have always wanted to do with Mwamba, the Enterprise Cup will do for now.”
During his short stint as coach, he won the coach of the year award at the 2012 Elliptics awards.
|Tito receiving his Coach of the year award from Ayimba.|
This return in the 2011/12 season saw Tito deployed in an unfamiliar back row position, during this last stint his influence among the young crop of players was evident. Stepping up at crucial points time and time again to ensure his side came out on the right side of the score board, which was more often than not.
So what led to the switch from centre to back row? “I was bored at centre, had done it all hence the move to back row, I was looking for a new challenge.”
Changing positions and still being able to perform at the highest level is quite the challenge so I asked how it was for him. “The transition from centre to back row looked seamless to people but physically it was hard on me, as I had to learn a lot and adjust to carrying the ball much more in tighter confines. But being the sharp person I am, I made it look easy.”
At the end of the Kenya Cup season, Tito had scored over 40 points for his side on their way to a fourth place finish. Among his most memorable matches is the win over Quins at Kasarani, obviously the Enterprise Cup final where he opened the scoring for his side through a penalty. Top of the list for him though, is the draw against Nakuru at the NAC.
Tito made his breakthrough in the national fifteens side in September 2002, against Zimbabwe in the Kenya Airways Cup at the RFUEA, alongside the likes of Curtis Olago, Moses Kola, Paul Murunga, Oscar Osir, Benjamin Ayimba, Derrick Wamalwa and Peter Mutai. He started that match at inside centre, “I was terrified.” He says, in that match Kenya managed to beat Zimbabwe for the first time ever, 30-23 and lift the Kenya Airways Cup, a trophy they would successfully defend the following year.
|Tito after the Tunisia Match, Squatting third from right.|
After 12 matches for the Kenya XVs and having scored 60 points an average of 5 points a match, He played his last game for Kenya in 2005 against Tunisia.
Like most rugby careers, injuries are part of the package and how one handles and picks themselves after these goes a long way to determining the length of their career. 20 years is quite the time, what was Tito’s worst injury? “I twisted my knee badly in February 2007 missed out on the whole season, at the time I was in peak physical condition and ready to make a return to Kenya XV.”
Away from the pitch, Tito Oduk is a soon to be Husband to Makena. The couple has been blessed with a beautiful daughter, Sulwe. He mentions his Mother very fondly, his number 1 fan.
|Tito the family man.|
I ask what he likes most from his time out so far, “Lack of injuries and the amount of time I get to spend with family, having a drink on Friday. Generally I’m relaxed.”
So what does he miss most? “The Sunday morning aches, they are special, and just the adrenaline of preparing for a game it’s like a drug… addictive.”
Tito had retired once before, but after the trip to NZ he was back in the game, so what makes this one special and should we expect to see him back in action? “Like the Undertaker I will limit myself to Wrestle Manias, only special occasions, if I’m ever to appear again. Physically I’m in top condition, mentally I will need serious motivation. Still waking up at 6 am to go to the gym and hitting the treadmill.”
Did he have any rituals before games, any lucky pair of bikers, socks maybe, did he always wear his left boot first, or hop into the ground or any such practices? “I didn’t have any of those, I would pack my kit the night before make sure everything is in order. Take a cold shower in the morning and eat very light. I prefer to be on my own in the build up to the game, walk around the pitch to gauge its conditions.”
What does he consider his greatest asset over the years? “Ability to adapt my game over the years that helped me remain relevant. From a tiny stepping winger, to a bullocking centre then to an explosive back row. It was my ability to get the balance right between my strength and thinking ability. I could be a play maker as well as a strike runner.”
Over the 20 years, what has been his most embarrassing moment on a rugby pitch? “Missing a centre post conversion against Nondies way back, my team mates gave me the look.” He adds that, “They paid for it though, I nailed 8 straight after that, from the corners.”
And who was his toughest opponent? Without a flinch, as if he was waiting for this question, “Edwin Shimenga,” he says, “Too f**ing strong man, and for those who know me, I’m the 1st body.” The toughest team he has faced has constantly been Nakuru RFC.
What would you like to be remembered for, when people sit down, 50 years to come what would you like them to say about Tito Oduk? “He loved the game. I know my kicking always will overshadow my other considerable skills. So they will say, when there was pressure to win a game, the go to guy would be Tito, The nerveless Warrior.”
|The Nerveless Warrior.|
There are hundreds, thousands, millions I hope, of young rugby players reading this, who would like to be like Tito Oduk, to them, he says, “There are no shortcuts, you have to work hard and take care of your body. Don’t overindulge in drinking, eating or smoking. Sleep a lot. Write down what you intend to achieve over your playing career and go about achieving your goals bit by bit.”
Where would Tito want to see the local game in the next 5 years? “I would like to see the players more skilled and better decision makers on the pitch. The game is not all about running over your opponents (stools). Better systems in identifying young talent and getting them integrated into the national teams sooner, and 15s taking its rightful place over 7s by being the team to strive to play for.”
Tito has played for three clubs across the country, I ask him, if not these three what other club would he have played for? “Nondies, maybe.” Nondies you heard the man, your move.
Any plans for the future, a return to coaching maybe? “This year I’m taking it easy, prepping for my wedding and settling into my new job, next year who knows.”
Finally, I ask the big man if there are any special people he’d like to specifically thank, “My number 1 fan my mom, fiancée Makena who has had to put up with my focussing. Baby Sulwe for not caring whether I have a big game or not it’s always about her. A big salute, to all my coaches and captains through high school and club as well as internationally. And to all my team mates and opponents it was a pleasure and an honour.”
I could not let Tito go before we settled a little banter we had a while back, the classic wazee vs vijana debate. He was to assemble, on paper his best 22 of his time and I would do the same, then see who’s team is better, here is Tito’s:
1. Derick Wamalwa 2. Mutisya 3. Hillary Itela. 4.Edwin Shimenga 5.Richard Nyakwaka 6. Nyagetuba 7. Dennis Mwanja 8. Benjamin Ayimba 9. Moses Kola 10. Newton Ong’alo 11.Oscar Osir 12. Tito Oduk(C) 13. Humphrey Kayange 14. Victor Sudi. 15. Sean Omondi.
16. Maiyo 17. Frank Ndong’. 18. Obondi 19.Mato 20. Peter Mutai 21. Sido 22.Abuoga
Here’s mine :
1.Moses Amusala 2.Franklin Amiani 3. Edwin Alubaka 4. Wilson Kopondo 5. Ronnie Mwenesi 6. Andrew Amonde 7. Oscar Ouma 8. Lawi Buyachi 9. Gibson Weru 10. Lavin Asego 11. Collins Injera 12. Patrice Agunda 13. Ian Simiyu 14. William Ambaka 15. Vincent Mose
16. Sammy Warui 17. Curtis Lilako 18. Dan Adongo 19. Tony Mutai 20. Eden Agero 21. Nato Simiyu 22. Leon Adongo
We leave it to you all..who do you think would win this match if the two teams met?
With that Ladies and Gents, a big Thank you to Tito for agreeing to do this, for his patience through the process. (We started compiling this information in April) I wish him and his Family all the very best life has to offer in his future endeavours.. Final question Tito, Will we get to see Sulwe turn up for the Kenya Lionesses? Hehehe…
A glimpse into Tito Oduk’s Trophy Cabinet:
Inter varsities winner – 2002.
Kenya Airways Cup winner – 2002. 2003.
Kenya Cup winner – 2003.
Super Series winner – 2003, 2009.
Enterprise Cup winner – 2003,2013.
Elgon Cup winner – 2004
Impala Floodlites winner – 2008.
Top points scorer Super Series 2003,2004. Kenya Cup 2009,2010.
The Elliptics Coach of the year, 2012.
That’s just a look at the major ones, if I were to list all the accolades he has gathered over the 20 years, we’d be here for a veeeery long time, like Tito says, “My trophy cabinet runneth over..”
I leave with a little photo collection of Tito…
Photo Credits : MoR, KRU, Daudi Were, Tito.