Melissa a leader of the pack

NMU sport manager tackles her dreams head on

Nelson Mandela University sport manager Melissa Awu is making a name for herself in rugby circles
Nelson Mandela University sport manager Melissa Awu is making a name for herself in rugby circles
Image: Eugene Coetzee

Nelson Mandela University sport manager Melissa Awu is a true reflection of the phrase “dynamite comes in small packages”.

The 33-year-old has made a name for herself in rugby circles nationally, serving as manager of the Springbok students sevens women’s team at the recent World University Championships in Namibia.

New Brighton-born Awu’s big break came when she became the first black woman to be appointed to the University Sport South Africa (Ussa) Rugby Committee in 2015.

Prior to that she worked at Rhodes University, first as an administrative assistant and later promoted to the sport manager position.

In 2015 she moved to the Tshwane University of Technology, and was then appointed as an NMU sport manager.

Awu’s dream of one day wearing the green and gold in hockey as a player was shattered due to financial constraints in high school.

Little did she know that years later her dream would become a reality, but as rugby sevens women’s team manager and not as a player.

She said this was a dream come true for her.

“Being a Springbok manager I learnt that I am not just doing this for myself, I am representing my country and for me it’s an honour,” the former Pearson High School pupil said.

“I had always dreamed of representing my country in the sport that I played, which was hockey, but I never got the opportunity to do so.

“I made it to the final round of the provincial trials. Those days in hockey if you made the provincial team you had to pay R5,000 for the tour and that was where the national squad would be picked.

“At that time my mother was unemployed, so I could not afford to go on tour.

“I always had to withdraw from the trials knowing that I would make the team but once there I could not afford the tour. That crushed my dreams of ever representing the country until this door opened.”

The sport enthusiast now wants to elevate her passion to the next level.

Her plan is to manage the national rugby sevens team at the Olympics.

“In three to five years’ time, I would also like to see myself leading the university sport department. I have worked at three universities, and as a sport manager I think now it is time for me to implement what I have learnt and lead.

“Nationally I would like to be with the team at the Olympics, even if it means I am the assistant team manager.”

Awu, who is a NMU alumnus and is studying towards her bachelor of technology in sport management, says it has always been her wish to come back home to uplift varsity sport in Port Elizabeth.

“It’s been great to come and work for a brand as big as Nelson Mandela University. It’s an honour. For me to come here and contribute is awesome.

“When I came here, women’s rugby was in its baby steps, so it’s been great to be entrusted with that and to grow it so much that we now have a Springbok player and a girl called up to the EP team.

“It shows the team effort is paying off. The players always remind me that we don’t only have a Springbok and a provincial player, but we also have a Springbok manager as well.”

Awu admits her journey has not been smooth sailing. She has had to work hard to gain the trust of her male counterparts, but she has not hesitated to tackle any task head on.

“Besides sport, I lead the environment portfolio in the Anglican Church. I am a canon for environment, a lay minister in New Brighton, a member of Rotary International and of Toastmasters International. I live by the phrase ‘trust and obey’,” Awu said.