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|Kenya's Ice Hockey Team Eye Olympics by Hbuyosh(m): 6:28pm On Aug 03, 2016|
Munori, a passionate in-line skater who plays hockey every Sunday at a park in the central business district, has just laced up his first pair of blades and stepped out onto the ice. He appears steady on his feet as his teammates Amos Ndung’u, Alex Kabwoya and Michael Munyaro—who all also got their start playing roller hockey—give him a quick demonstration of how to cut, turn and brake.
“It feels awkward,” Munori says, shifting his foot to examine the blade. “Like I’m new to it.” He glances around the rink, where the rest of the players are warming up. “At least this place is not as cold as I thought.”
If you didn’t know you were fewer than 90 miles from the equator, it would be hard to tell from the inside of the Solar Ice Rink. The scrape of skates and blaring music echo off mural-covered walls where painted figures of every skin color skate, ski and toboggan against an idyllic alpine backdrop. It’s the only ice rink in East or Central Africa, and it’s where the Kenyan Ice Hockey League meets for a game every Wednesday night.
The games are informal, with a mix of local and international players. There’s no official uniform, though a handful of the guys wear custom-made jerseys emblazoned with hockey sticks crossing the distinctive shield on the Kenyan flag. By necessity, the equipment is all imported, and much of it is donated or improvised. Many players don’t wear helmets. And even the more experienced ones, who basically skated out of the womb in Slovakia or Canada, sometimes have trouble stopping because the rental skates' blades are so worn.
But every week, at least half the players on the ice are Kenyan. And more are coming all the time.
“A lot of people, a lot of Africans, they think it’s a white man’s sport. But they come to see it, to have fun, and then they get the interest,” says Ben Azegere, a skating instructor at the rink who also happens to be one of the best players in the league.
“It’s thrilling,” he adds. “Most of the guys, they come here for the thrill.”
The rink opened in 2005 at Panari Sky Center, a gleaming hotel and shopping complex on the outskirts of town near the airport. It was a risky venture—building costs aside, it’s not cheap to keep the ice cold in a country where the only naturally occurring snow exists at the top of 17,000-foot-high Mount Kenya. But it wasn’t long before a steady stream of local schoolchildren and families started stepping onto the ice for a novel experience.
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