Football was always his passion and he played as a striker in the Kenya Premier League for Tusker Football Club and others, but he never imagined how it would really feel if he lost the most vital part of his body that enabled him to play.
David Opati Etale, 31, lost the ability to use his leg eight years ago, to a roadside bomb while in a combat vehicle in Afghanistan while he served in the British Army.
Yet, though the trauma in the transition period almost led him to suicide, he found a new passion in coaching young people who want to play the game.
PREMONITION OF DOOM
“On October 18th, 2009, I woke up in particularly low spirits. We went on patrol and we were attacked by Taliban militants in a fight that saw us engage them in a fire exchange for two hours.
“When everything went silent, we decided to drive back to our base but somewhere along the way, our vehicle hit an Improvised Explosive Device (IED),” he says.
He became unconscious but when he woke up, he was in a hospital in the UK in pain. That was when it dawned on him that he had several injuries.
MOST CHALLENGING PART OF HIS LIFE
All this happened only on his second deployment after joining the 3rd Battalion of the Rifles, an infantry regiment of the British Army in 2009. He had completed his six-month training that started on September 9, 2006 and ended on March 18, 2007.
He started as a rifleman soldier and was later promoted to the rank of a lance corporal.
“We were deployed to Afghanistan and this was the most challenging part of my life. One minute you are with your friends the next minute they are dead or have sustained life-changing injuries like losing limbs because of the IEDs planted by the Taliban,” he says of the war described as the bloodiest in the history of the British Army.
The Taliban is one of the world’s most infamous extremist groups, describing itself as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) and currently waging an insurgency war in the south-central Asian country.
WORLD FALLING APART
Following the serious injuries he suffered in the attack near the famous Kajaki hydroelectric power dam in Helmand Province, David’s left leg had to be amputated in 2016 after several rounds of surgeries.
“It was a tough period for me because I was also battling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), following my experience in the battlefield. I felt like my world had fallen apart. I was ailing, in pain and in stress.”
He said that after the experience, he became withdrawn and could not speak about it for several years. He lost hope in life.
“At some point, I wanted to take my own life. I attempted suicide twice because of the challenges I was facing physically, socially and psychologically.”
His daughter restored his hope in life when she walked into his room and told him that he was her hero and that she loved him beyond measure.
“Her words made me realise that I had a purpose in life. I just could not give up. I had to rise up and walk. I had to live again.”
David had to learn to walk using prosthetics and has never looked back.
“I was eventually medically discharged from the armed forces and now all I do is motivational speaking around schools and colleges. My engagement has taught me that no matter what situation you find yourself in life, if you embrace it with a positive attitude, there is nothing that is impossible to achieve.”
David was born in Huruma, Nairobi, but his family later moved to Maringo Estate’s Posta Quarters. The family eventually relocated to Westlands when his father was promoted.
FOR THE LOVE OF FOOTBALL
After completing his elementary studies at Visa Oshwal Primary School, he joined Tala High School, where his interest in soccer was nurtured.
“As I was growing up I was deeply in love with sports, especially football. So much so that I ended up playing in the Kenya Premier League for Kenya Commercial Bank Football Club and Tusker Football Club, but I later moved to London to join the army since football was not well-paying.”
He played alongside current Mathare captain George Owino, Boniface Ambani, Mulinge Ndeto, who currently plays for Ulinzi, Victor Onyango, Patrick Osiako and Geoffrey Otieno, the current assistant coach of Black Stars.
Others are George Midenyo, the current assistant coach of Wazito FC, George Odary, Jeff Oyando and Wilson Oburu, currently the Bandari goalkeeper.
LIFE WITH NO REGRETS
He says he has no regrets whatsoever about what has become of his life, since he had achieved a lot and his story has inspired many people.
David, who is based in Edinburgh, uses Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media platforms to offer motivation to students, soldiers, youth, football players and everyone else who may be in need.
His parting shot? “I conduct motivational talks to give hope to those who feel there is no hope left in life.”
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