With her maturity, determination and focus, Rebecca Duncan leaves many questioning if she is really just 18 years old.
“I want women and girls to think that they are equal (to men) and to not be like, oh well, I am just going to get married and have children and cook,” the young athlete comments. “I want them to remember that they can be a lawyer, doctor or the world’s best motocross or Formula One driver if they want to.”
And Duncan lives every bit of her own advice. The 18-year-old is a star triathlete, a sport that involves three disciplines (swimming, cycling and running), which she developed a passion for, aged just five.
So far, Duncan has returned promising results in the sport, achieving a commendable fourth place finish at the ATU African Triathlon Championships in Egypt last May and having participated at the ITU World Championships in Chicago USA last month. Additionally, she has dreams of becoming an Olympic athlete.
“Triathlon teaches one discipline,” she explains, observing that her training is largely self-initiated without anyone telling her what she needs to do. “You have to do it because you want to and know that if you don’t you are not going to get the results that you want.”
She confesses that it is a lot of work.
“But it pays off,” she adds.
But beyond her grueling training schedule, Duncan is here to prove a point; that girls and women can. Patriarchal African society has socialised its children to believe anything aggressive, ambitious and adventurous is for men, with women better suited for more conventional pursuits and exploits.
Although it is very much an individual sport, Duncan feels it is a team sport in that the squad that she travels with is her family. But together with her schoolmate also involved in the triathlon, Karishma Patel, Duncan has never been discouraged by how the sport she love is male-dominated. In fact, it is what motivates her to stay in it.
“I feel like triathlon is a male dominated sport,” she says. “Even in the Tour de France you never see any women. I hope other girls my age are inspired.”
At the same as she dreams of sporting excellence, Duncan also has her sights set on her education.
“My dream is to go to university and get a degree (because) my worst nightmare is having to rely on a man,” she said. “I want to be able to have a degree where l can support myself and know that I am not relying on anybody.”
That sense of independence and responsibility is what has fuelled her success train in triathlon. And she explains that it is the hunger for the feeling of fulfillment that suppresses the temptation to give up during such a gruelling sport.
“It is a difficult feeling to explain but it is like an adrenalin in your body and you just think oh my gosh, I just finished and I am here because of everything I have done,” she says of the feeling she gets after a race.”As I will be training, and as soon as I want to quit, I just imagine what it is going to be like when crossing that finish line.”
For her hard work and humility, she has earned herself several badges at her school, which include Deputy House Captain, an eloquence merit award for public speaking and Interact Club, and is a member of the Magazine Committee as well as hockey and athletics teams.
“[Triathlon] is the perfect balance of pushing oneself and not dying,” Duncan says. “I don’t really think I would change anything about triathlon as a sport because if it changes, I don’t think it will be as challenging.”
All images by Grace Chirumhanzu