BY MUNYARADZI MADZOKERE
Donata is Italian for gift.
And when Luigi and Desdemona Katai had their second child, a girl, on May 7, 2004, they named her Donata.
She was a gift from God for the Katai family. Little did they know that the child had something in her that would make her a gift to a nation.
Two weeks ago, Donata Katai flew the country’s flag with distinction at the CANA Junior African Swimming Championships in Tunisia, where she won two gold medals.
The 15-year-old swimming sensation won the 50m backstroke before wrapping up her second gong in the 100m backstroke.
Earlier in the year, Donata beat Sports minister Kirsty Coventry’s 21-year-old 100m backstroke record while competing at the South Africa National Junior Championships in Durban.
It was not the first time the Gateway High School student surpassed Coventry’s milestone, apparently Donata first broke her idol’s record when she was only seven.
Her achievements in the pool have ignited hopes of future Olympic medals for the country.
The Sports Hub caught up with the Katai family at the inter-house swimming competition at Gateway on Wednesday, where her parents shared their daughter’s journey thus far and how it all began.
“One day we were having a family braai and my stepdad saw her in the swimming pool and at that time her brother was a very good breaststroker, but she seemed to be challenging him,” Donata’s mother Desdemona revealed.
“He noted that she had an unusual stroke and she seemed to glide through the water and he suggested that we take the child for further swimming lessons. “We did that and then she went on to break Coventry’s first age group record for Mashonaland when she was just seven,” she said.
Since then, Donata has been breaking records with easy frequency and at the school event, she broke records in every individual competition she took part in.
“She has done very well so far. “What we have been doing is set targets for her. Two years ago we started talking about this year, ie, the Junior World Championships and Africa Junior Championships. We sat down and started working towards getting to those events and setting the targets,” Luigi, her father, said.
“It’s been a journey and I am looking forward to the next stage. But for her to progress and move to the next level, she needs financial assistance. We need help to make sure that she realises her full potential,” he added.
Donata has won so many swimming awards that they have run out of space to put them at home.
The Katais actually need a bigger trunk to store Donata’s medals as they keep coming, but surely the gold medal from Tunisia will find a place on the wall.
“She has won many swimming medals. We wanted to put them up in the house, but they are just too many. It would be nice if they were real gold so we could melt some and make money. We need a trunk to put them now.”
According to the parents, Donata, who is writing her O’Levels next year, may have to cut down a little bit on swimming to focus on getting good grades.
“Next year she will be in Form 4, the big focus is writing O’Levels, but there are regional competitions coming up so we will enter some of them. It’s a balancing act next year because we are trying to get the school first and swimming will become secondary,” Luigi said.
The year has been memorable for Donata, from breaking Coventry’s record to winning gold at the Africa Junior Championships.
She has no doubt about what she wants to achieve in swimming.
“I think everyone’s dream is to go to the Olympics and win that gold medal. It’s been the dream I have been looking to since I came to know about the Olympics and seeing all the fame you can get from the Olympics and the influence you have when you get that far,” Donata told The Sports Hub.
“When I was Under-8 I broke one of Kirsty’s records she set when she was eight, but since then I haven’t broken any of her records coming up. So this is evidence that I have come a long way and I haven’t been training for nothing.” At school, Donata fits in very well, humble, courteous, friendly and does not carry a superstar persona.
She is always surrounded by her best friends Renata Jiao, Ruqayya Wilson and Rutendo Makowa, always looking like they are having a good time.
Last Tuesday, Donata’s friends threw a surprise party in one of the classrooms to celebrate the two gold medals she won in Tunisia.
“We had a celebration party for Donata on Tuesday at school in one of the classrooms during lunch and gave her gifts. She was very grateful and she said she was about to cry,” Makowa revealed as they all cracked with laughter.
“Being a teenage athlete is not hard when you have friends like mine who want you to do well. So if I am bunking swimming to hang out with them, they will say, ‘no you can’t do that’”.
Away from swimming, Donata loves her sleep more than anything else although she has other interests like any other normal teenager.
“I like sleeping a lot and activities that don’t require too much physical strain like reading, playing video games. I play a lot of games and also hanging out with my friends,” revealed Donata.
Donata has two brothers Joshua (17) and Christian (10). The family has a strong Christian background.
While she has excelled in swimming, Donata is a multi-talented athlete who also tops in tennis, hockey, basketball and athletics at school.
She is also an “A” student at school.
“As a school, we are proud of her achievements and she is nothing short of a prodigy. She is a gifted child who is good at everything that she does. The amount of time she has put into her swimming one shudders to think how she manages to maintain the A grades,” Gateway head Tunga Mashungu said.
Donata has grown in leaps and bounds under coach Kathy Lobb at Sharks Swimming Club.
She has also been working under renowned Kyros Sports Management coach Nyasha Muchochomi.
A number of top swimming colleges in the US have been monitoring Donata and she is set to join one of them soon on a swimming scholarship.