What else could brother and sister, both professional athletes, do other than compete?
“You mean a squash match between me and her? I am in. I have been waiting for this, I have a score to settle here,” says the little brother.
“Come let’s go warm up,” says the big sister.
“You’re the one who needs a warm-up, I am warmed. I’ve come from a practise an hour ago,” says little brother.
This was South Africa’s women squash champion Siyoli Waters and her younger brother Luvuyiso Lusaseni, a professional rugby player with the Lions Rugby Union in Johannesburg. This keen encounter at the Wanderers squash courts, in Johannesburg, was a legacy of competitive teenage days, back in East London, in the Eastern Cape.
“I was in boarding schools most of my life, whenever I came home in December I trained with friends. When he was about 11 years old, he joined in and each year he would say ‘when you come back again my arms will be bigger than yours,’… My brother plays for the Lions now, I am so proud of him. He has a good head on his shoulders,” says Waters.
“We always woke up at about 4 o’clock and go for a nice jog. It was a very friendly and fun competition. It kind of motivated me. It was inspiring to see the work that she was putting in to get where she was and where she wanted to be. At that point, I didn’t have any idea what I wanted to play, but I think she ignited my love for sport,” says Lusaseni.
Thirty-one year-old Waters was a late bloomer. In 2009, she turned professional and was ranked 279 in the world. She is now ranked 34 and number one in South Africa. This is a spot she has held since June 2013. In August, she was in Johannesburg to defend her title at the South African National Championships.
“I have achieved what I achieved, but I would love teaching others to do it with me. I would love to bring others along. It’s very clear to me, if you are trailblazing you should have other people following the trail. You cannot be on your own; then something is wrong,” says Waters.
“When it comes to accolades and family gatherings, maybe I felt a little pressure to bring something to the table,” says Lusaseni.
Standing at 1.96 meters and 110 kilograms, the 26-year-old is a lock forward. His sister stands 1.7 meters tall. Lusaseni was in the South Africa Schools rugby team in 2006 and represented his country in the IRB World Championships in 2008. Playing for the Springboks is the next step.
The two are worlds apart when it comes to sport and physique. They are one when it comes to competition.
Was there ever sibling rivalry?
“I always think of Serena and Venus Williams. Whatever the world thinks about them, those are sisters, one would win and one would lose, but because they managed their sibling rivalry, not only were they both able to be world champions, by working together they were able to rise far above the rest of the competition. Their story is fantastic, I use it often to encourage young kids not to quit,”
In South Africa, professional squash is little known and sponsorship is scarce. It was only in 2013 that Waters secured a two-year sponsorship to pay her passage to international events. Before then, Waters juggled her career and coaching to pay her way in Cape Town.
“The fact that I am a champion today, I think its testimony that South African squash has been always open to transformation. As a teenager I felt like I was welcomed in squash community. That’s probably why I chose squash over tennis. In my time, multiracial schools produced a lot of black players but unfortunately they were lost in the university stages. It’s a money issue. You would rather be an accountant than a squash player.”
Waters had made peace with the fact that the sport she fell in love with will not make her a multimillionaire. But she enjoys the travel.
“I have been to every continent in the world except South America. It helped me discover that I have a love for languages though I have studied science. Squash tours are similar to tennis tours; they require monthly traveling around the world. I love playing in Malaysia; you get a sense that squash is a spectator sport. They have adopted squash as one of the major sports in the country,” she says.
Although Waters campaigned for the inclusion of squash in the Olympic Games in 2016, it remains unclear if she will ever play for her country on sport’s biggest stage. Waters missed out on the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in August. Her disappointment was huge and she is still waiting for an explanation. So is FORBES AFRICA, repeated attempts to speak to Paene Galane, a spokesperson in the sports ministry, proved fruitless.
But this does not seem to bother Waters who represents players on the South African squash committee. Since age is catching up with her, she says her focus is on slotting into the world top 20 and going to the 2020 Olympics as a coach.
“It’s important sharing what I know, especially as one of the few black squash players in the country. I need to be a role model for my sport,” says Waters.
Waters also won provincial colors in hockey, tennis and athletics at junior level, but sport is not her only talent. She met her husband in church with a song on her lips.
“It was funny that it wasn’t sport that brought us together. I was impressed by her voice in the church band. But it was later that I discovered her sports talent,” says Dave Waters, her husband who runs the Africa Soccer Development academy in Cape Town and Johannesburg.
The big arms did not help Lusaseni to settle old scores on the squash court as he lost heavily. But few would take up the challenge of a return match on the rugby field.