CNN

In sports, there is nothing more revered than scoring the winning points at the last minute, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. All the greatest sports matches have this moment that will forever be etched in the memories of fans. But not for Kenyan rugby player Dennis Ombachi.

Thinking back to the try he scored after the buzzer went off, to send the Kenya Sevens team to the Olympics, he told CNN Sport: “I really don’t remember much. What I remember is hearing the siren and hearing the coaches, the late Benjamin Ayimba [Kenya’s head coach] and the technical bench shouting just Omba, Omba!

From inside his own 22, Ombachi made two tackles for Zimbabwe before rushing onto the pitch to score the try that qualified Kenya for Rugby 7s’ first Olympics event.

Ombachi would be part of the Kenya squad that traveled to Rio and rubbed shoulders with the world’s greatest athletes, becoming a regular in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series squad.

But at the height of his powers, the Kenyan star suffered a serious broken leg, sidelining him for most of the year.

But it’s Ombachi’s sanity that would be hit harder than his broken leg. Forced to move and with nothing to do but wait for his leg to heal, Ombachi struggled to cope and eventually attempted suicide.

“Bones and muscles eventually heal. But what I really didn’t take into account was the mental impact it was going to have on me and that was dragging on, even until now that I’m still suffering from it a bit,” recalls Ombachi.

Through the intervention of friends and family, Ombachi was hospitalized and eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a mental illness characterized by manic highs, depressive lows, and possible bouts of psychosis.

But Ombachi also remembers that what also helped him through this dark phase of life was his hobby, cooking.

The winger has always loved food and cooking, a hobby that has benefited from a career that has taken him all over the world.

“My love of food is intimately linked to rugby as it started playing HSBC legs, you tour around 18 countries a year and all of those countries have their own culture, languages ​​and food. We used to eat different types of food,” Ombachi told CNN Sport.

“I used to come home and challenge myself to try to create some of the different dishes I had here and there. I think that’s how the passion grew.

In particular, celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay was an inspiration to the homebound athlete.

“Through his YouTube channel, I managed to understand the fundamentals, principles and how to use your taste buds,” Ombachi said.

“That’s what got me through most of my depressed times, especially the times I got injured,” he says before adding with a laugh: “In the kitchen, Gordon Ramsay was my mentor though he doesn’t know it.”

When Ombachi returned to playing, his career took another hit, this time in the form of the Covid-19 pandemic.

With the cancellation of the Sevens circuit and the termination of his contract by the Kenya Rugby Union, Ombachi suddenly found himself stuck indoors and with no income.

So Ombachi went back to the kitchen. And with a DSLR camera his former captain and mentor Humphrey Kayange brought him, Ombachi started making cooking videos and posting them on Instagram and Twitter.

He quickly developed a style in his videos that would set him apart from other content creators. These were rapid-fire videos, with Ombachi narrating and punctuating each step of the process by saying “Done!”

Ombachi started out with a fairly large following in Kenya as an athlete who was still very active on Twitter and Instagram, but it would be a different platform, TikTok, that would make Ombachi a global phenomenon.

Concretely, it was a single video that blew up the player, now permanently installed in Nairobi.

“Once in a while I cook a lot of food and then distribute it to kids on the street, so I once shot a video of me doing the same thing,” Ombachi said.

“I cooked, distributed the food and it went viral on Twitter, TikTok and Instagram. Just from this video I managed to gain over 300,000 followers.

The video shows Ombachi making a chicken stew with chapatis, canning it and handing it out to children on a street in Nairobi, now has over 15 million views on TikTok alone.

“I think this [cooking for street kids] comes from when I was back in high school. There was a time when I was a little depressed, a little 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 a lot of friends among the street kids and it made me understand and empathize with them, that they are ordinary human beings going through the same problems as all of us. My opportunities are just better than theirs. ”

Just like when he represented Kenya to the world, Dennis remembers his roots and the people he represents. It’s one of the main reasons he’s so open with his mental health issues.

According to the World Health Organization’s 2017 Global Mental Health Report, Kenya was the fifth highest ranked country in Africa for cases of depression and it is estimated that one in 10 people suffers from depression. common mental disorder.

The government set up a mental health task force in 2019 to tackle the crisis, but as a predominantly rural country, there is still a lot to do.

Many athletes and social media personalities have used their platform to speak out about mental health and partner with organizations and charities to raise awareness.

Ombachi supports this work, but he also sees an important role for those with public profiles to simply embrace their struggles with mental health.

“If you have regular people living their normal lives and talking about it…then it hits the spot more.”

With two young children at home, Ombachi seeks a more stable lifestyle than that of a globe-trotting rugby player.

He is also following in the footsteps of his ‘mentor’ Gordon Ramsay and setting up his own Nairobi-based masterclass to teach people how to cook gourmet food.

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