Judith Aya: The Forgotten Ugandan Golden Girl

Throughout a period when African female participation in sports entertainment was at its nascent and prevalently amateur stages, youthful Judith Ayaa grew to become a convincing title among female African track stars in the 1960s.

Little is known about the Golden Girl who died a miserable person in 2002 after she was reduced from stardom to a casual worker at a quarry works in Kampala.

Standing 5’ 9’’, Aya was born on July 15,1952 to her late peasant parents in Kal parish, Koch Goma Sub County in Nwoya district in northern Uganda rose to stardom after representing her country in the East and Central African Athletic Championships and winning a Gold Medal. Despite living in the shadow of John Akii-Bua, her national record would stand for many years.

Ayaa beats 26 -year -old Collete Besson of France in Mexico City in the Olympic Game though she came back bare handed after she was disqualified.
Though her reign short lived after she got married and became a mother, everyone was astonished in 1968 when Ayaa won gold in the 100 meters sprint, finishing in 11.5 seconds in the East and Central African Athletic Championships.

The following year 1969, Ayaa cemented and confirmed her formidability by in the same championships winning in the 100 meters (11.8 seconds), the 200 meters (25.0s), and the 400m (53.6s).

Similarly, in 1970 at the same championships, Judith Ayaa did not slip behind.

The slim young woman with the”Mercedes-Benz” body again won in the 100m (11.8s), the 200m (24.1s), and the 400m (54.0s). In 1969, based on her best time of 53.6s, Judith Ayaa was ranked amongst the top women 400m runners of the world.

Having many appearance in the international games in the 1970s in Canada, Germany among others winning bronzes and bringing pride to Uganda, Ayaa name is only being called by her village mates in her home district Nwoya who demands a national recognition for her.

Although she worked hard, her status as a professional athlete, this did not bring for her fortune for her children. The three children the super hero left behind is walloping in poverty.

Her daughter Janet Atim (46), Francis Odiya (53), her first child and Mercy Auno (31), her last born all got married at an earlier age since they dropped out of education.

Her family home is just few meters near Koch Goma Primary where she attended for primary education. he playfield where she used to practice have been named by the locals after her, Ayaa sports Field.

The last born of Ayaa’s family, Alfred Opiyo noted that her sister’s sacrifice for the country was in vain since she never received any recognition for her great work.

Opiya asked the government not to forget her great sister since she gave her best for her country in sports and demands that at least a medal handed to the member of her surviving members of her family in honor. 

Later life

Ayaa drifted away from athletics after 1972, marrying and giving birth to several children in quick succession which ultimately brought an end to her sporting career. She had at least four children, Nancy, Emmanuel, Priscila and Henry. She worked in the Ugandan prison service as a warden during her athletics career and continued the role after retirement.

The economic downturn in Uganda under the regime of Idi Amin pushed Ayaa into poverty and she was forced to beg on the streets of Kampala before earning a living by breaking stones.

John Akii-Bua, a teammate of Ayaa’s at the 1972 Summer Olympics who won gold in the men’s 400m hurdles, discovered Ayaa’s plight and raised awareness. Donations were made to support her before she died at Mulago Hospital in Kampala in 2002. A nursery school, named the Ayaa Foundation was setup in her hometown to care for orphans and vulnerable children.

In 2014, plans were announced for a statue of Ayaa to be erected in Koch-Goma.


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