It's been quite a journey for 30-year-old Banyana Banyana defender Nothando Vilakazi. Among other achievements, she has been playing for the national team for more than 10 years, earned more than 100 caps, and recently signed her first international contract with Lithuania side Gintra Universitetas.
Now based in Lithuania, Vilakazi joined Banyana Banyana in the United States and formed part of the squad that played the international friendly match in Santa Clara, California.
Growing up Middleburg, Vilakazi's love for football began at the age of 9 when she started playing with boys. Although her mother did not want her to play the game, the support from her aunt is what inspired her to pursue the sport.
"I used play for a boys' team, and I travelled a lot with them, but my mother was not comfortable with this arragement. The team that I played for was owned by sport personality Walter Mokoena. Although I played with boys, during camp Walter's mother would make a plan for me and made sure that I slept at their house because I was the only girl in the team," said Vilakazi.
Famously known as 'Vivo', the left-footed defender only started playing football with girls at the age of 14. She then started competing in the Sasol League when she was 17, playing for the Highlanders team in Mpumalanga. Her experience in playing with boys is what gave her the confidence to compete and play better than most girls, which she did.
"Coming into the Sasol League and playing with girls was an eye opener for me. It is a nationwide league that helped expose me to different players around the country and kept me on my toes. If it wasn't for Sasol and the Sasol League, I don't know where I would be today. Their involvement did not only change the face of women's football in South Africa but my own personal life as well. For a change, I was able to make a difference at home and assist my parents," she added.
As part of their preparations for the world stage, Banyana Banyana faced the USA ,who are the world champions and number one ranked nation in women's football, in a game that has provided the team some perspective on what to expect when they compete in the World Cup for the first time in June.
"The USA friendly was an important match for us because they are the best, they are world champions. They have one of the best leagues in the world, something we hope to see as women footballers in South Africa," said Vilakazi.
"I think showcasing our talent and competing on a global stage will definitely bring positive change into the sport. Hopefully sponsors such as Sasol will continue supporting and making a difference in women's football."
Although joining Gintra Universitetas is one of her biggest achievements, Vilakazi's favourite moment in her football career was at the 2017 COSAFA Women's Cup when she reached her 100thcap.
She recalls the unforgettable moment in Zimbabwe, "Reaching 100 caps definitely tops my favourite moments in my football career. It was a great feeling and I was really emotional because at that moment, I realised that anything is possible," concluded Vivo.
"All my hard work had paid off and that is what being Limitless means to me, to not give up and keep pushing no matter what. There are a lot of players who would like the opportunity to play for their country, and to be able to have done that 100 times for South Africa is something I am very extremely proud of."
Nothando Vilakazi 's top achievements:
2008 COSAFA Cup Champions
2012 AWCON 2nd place
2012 London Olympics
2016 Rio Olympics
2016 AWCON 4th place and named in CAF Best XI Substitutes
2017 COSAFA Cup Champions
2018 Cyprus Cup 6th place
2018 COSAFA Cup Champions
2018 AWCON 2ndplace and first qualification for the FIFA Women's World Cup
2019 Signed her first international contract with Gintra Universitetas
For more information on the Limitless initiative and to show your support, search #Limitless on Twitter or YouTube - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jMRZ_CJR3Y
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