MARIA DE LURDES MUTOLA’S CHILDHOOD
Maria de Lurdes Mutola was known in the township as Lurdinha. Today, this small nickname is known the whole world over. Lurdinha is the youngest of ten from the Mutola family. When she enrolled in the mixed primary school in Chamanculo never would she imagine that this very school would one day bear her own name. Today, this establishment displays the name in honor of her: Maria de Lurdes Mutola Primary School.
In the beginning of the 70’s Chamanculo was a poor township without minimum sanitation conditions or piped water. Her father, João Mutola was a railway port worker who worked his entire life to sustain his enormous family. The township conditions changed radically with the abrupt arrival of thousands of Mozambicans fleeing the war which besieged the country between 1976 and 1992. The housing conditions of Chamanculo degraded with the influx of war refugees. It is in this township that Maria de Lurdes Mutola grew up, where she made friends with whom, to this day, she shares moments of happiness and fraternity.
LURDES MUTOLA: SCHOOL VS SPORTS
Maria de Lurdes Mutola was born with the love of sports. There where times when she skipped school in order to do football training in the neighboring townships. Her parents were angered by Maria’s attitude, as education was supposed to take precedence in her life. However, her attraction to sports continued diverting Mutola’s attention.
Despite sometimes skipping school to dedicate herself to practicing sports, she nevertheless remained a compliant pupil. When it was time to perform at school, Lurdinha always did her best, managing to overcome the difficulties and pass all her classes. Her parents wanted her to exert more effort at school however, and decided to apply corrective measures in her life: they sent Lurdinha to Maxixe, in the Province of Inhambane. There she was to live with her elder sister, Gina. Lurdes lived with her sister for about three years. Away from her parents and sports, the measure was intended to diminish this fondness for extra curricular-activities. This change, however, was only imaginary. She learned to better reconcile school and sports. In Inhambane, the Province of her parents’ origin, Maria progressed in her studies and physical preparation.
After those three years, Gina moved to the North of Mozambique and Maria was forced to return home to Chamanculo. The issue of her connection with sports was yet unsolved. Worse even was the fact that in Inhambane she was one of the few girls practicing sports. She learnt to coexist with boys and her parents’ reluctance in relation to this “hobby” came to gain a new dimension. It was clear; sport was not simply “leisure” for this adolescent, it was a heart and soul commitment.
At that time, a female soccer tournament had just started among townships in Maputo city. They use to call a gifted and skillfull player a “crack”. One of the remarkable moments of Lurdinha’s young history was when on a bright day, the Mutola family was at ease, breathing a sigh of relief, convinced that Maria was at school learning. On the way back from work, her father was commenting with colleagues about his daughter’s good behavior and her preference for pursuing her education. His colleague suggested that they pass by the sports ground where a UFA female championship was underway. Enthusiastic, the colleague suggested that they should hurry to arrive on time for a female soccer game where he could prove the existence of a girl who, according to reports, played better than men. The girl was fast, intelligent and scored beautiful goals through incredible fakes and dribbles.
Upon arrival at the soccer pitch, João Mutola almost fell on his back. The so called “crack” was his daughter, Maria de Lurdes. The father wasn’t able, at that moment, to admire the athletic qualities of his daughter. He felt betrayed for having believed that his daughter had given up sports to study.
At home, there was a discussion. Mutola understood that there was no need to use “fakes” in her relation with her parents and her preferences. She convinced her parents that the truth was the way but, for that, there was a need to support her and be on her side. Lurdes went on practicing sports with little consent from her parents. She enrolled in the Aguia d’Ouro male soccer team.
During soccer matches, many objections were sent to officials insisting that Lurdes Mutola should change sides. According to them, for her to play football in a male team was illegal. It was then that Jose Craveirinha emerged in the life of Maria de Lurdes Mutola.
JOSÉ CRAVEIRINHA – THE POET FATHER OF LURDINHA
Jose Craveirinha, a renowned and internationally recognized Mozambican poet met Maria de Lurdes Mutola at a male soccer match at a football ground in Mafalala – a suburb township in the city of Maputo. The poet admired her playing capacity amongst males, her courage and the way she ran with the ball. Jose Carvelinha approached Maria and attempted to convince her to change type of sport. The participation of a sportswoman of Mutola’s capabilities could add value to the world of female sports in Mozambique.
The poet introduced Mutola to his son, an athletics coach of Desportivo de Maputo, with whom she started athletics training with. At one point she divided herself between the two sporting activities: take part in unofficial soccer matches whilst also trying to concentrate on athletics. After various attempts to give up, Maria decided to take athletics seriously and stop playing football.
Mutola’s parents finally helped in her decision to practice athletics, given the fact that it was an acceptable sporting activity, but they maintained the imposed condition from the beginning: their daughter was supposed to pursue her education. Maria Mutola could run and play but never abandon education. And that is what happened.
In 1986 Lurdes Mutola took part in the Olympic Games in Seoul at the age of 14. Her first reaction was to be overwhelmed by the greatness of the event, but afterwards she reacted positively and gained courage to take part in other large events.
MUTOLA THE CHAMPION
Responding to the conditions imposed by Mutola’s parents, the Mozambican authorities and sports institutions launched a campaign in search of a scholarship grant for Maria de Lurdes Mutola. Options were divided between Portugal and the USA with some possibilities from Russia and other western countries. The decision was taken: USA is where Maria would pursue her education with an Olympic Solidarity scholarship grant.
Now living in USA, the link between Maria de Lurdes Mutola and her family strengthened: Mutola missed her family and friends. During holidays, and when time would allow, she used to come back home and visit her family. Her father, João Mutola, according to Maria, was her ally in the battles that she encountered and always gave good advice, not only from father to a daughter, but as a friend and a tireless supporter.
Lurdes Mutola received a piece of advice from her father, who begged her to promise never to change her nationality. Mutola’s father, a humble laborer had to take Maria de Lurdes Mutola’s vow not to accept any proposal to do this, even if it was worth millions. For him Mozambique was a humble nation which fought for freedom and he would never accept his child who, for whatever purpose, agreed to “sell” the country’s nationality.
João Mutola told Maria de Lurdes Mutola that the country from which she originated was poor and could not offer such things as other countries could offer her, but the love and care that the country could give to Lurdinha would be worth more than any price or money in the world.
Maria de Lurdes Mutola took her father’s advice and always remembered that moment, in the same way she did the advice of not giving up school. Soon after, when Mutola’s star started brightening in the world of sports, many proposals came for Mutola to change her nationality. Lurdes Mutola never accepted, even when such offers were worth millions, she never went back on the promise she gave to her father.
The saddest moment in Mutola’s life was when amidst competition, she was informed of her father’s death in a car accident.
Today, Maria de Lurdes Mutola is the happiest woman in the world, because she has managed, despite being from one of the poorest countries in the world, to accomplish what no one else in the world of athletics has managed to achieve.