As the first woman to earn RSEQ player, rookie, and defensive player of the year awards all in the same season (2018-2019) during her time at Collège Montmorency, athletic success is nothing new to Donna Ntambue. After two seasons abroad playing basketball for the University of Utah (2020-21) and Northeastern University (2021-22), Ntambue was finally ready to bring her talents back up north.
Braving the winter wind on a balmy -40 degree evening, Ntambue made her way to The McGill Tribune office to sit down with me and discuss her decision to return to her hometown of Montreal and transition into being a single-sport athlete.
Growing up, Ntambue’s focus was always on basketball, even though she preferred track. Coming from a family of 12, several considerations factored into her decision to start her university athletics career at the University of Utah, with the main one being the financial accessibility of competing in both track and basketball.
“I was young, I had to make a choice for myself and for my family,” Ntambue explained. “If I [went] to the States, it [would] be easier for my mom and for my dad. I knew that with basketball I would get a scholarship.”
However, the American experience was not what she expected, nor what she wanted. The pressure and competitiveness of the collegiate basketball circuit were not worth it for Ntambue. When it came down to it, she had to put her well-being—both mental and physical—first.
“When I was actually in the States, which was my dream, I realized that it wasn’t really what I wanted [….] It’s like, yeah, it’s not greener on the other side,” said Ntambue. “My basketball coach kicked me out of the team last year […] because I wasn’t doing well mentally. I came back from an injury and she forced me […] to come back faster because they needed me. And after that, […] I couldn’t do it anymore.”
When it came down to it, the decision to continue track was obvious. Running was always Ntambue’s first love. But the choice to quit varsity basketball proved to be more difficult.
“I never stopped basketball in my life, it’s been my whole life,” Ntambue admitted. “I thought ‘I’ll be nothing’, all my best friends are basketball players.”
Ntambue’s adaptable mindset when it comes to competition and performance, however, is exactly what allowed her to be successful in her pursuit of track as a single-sport athlete. The key was to be kind to herself.
“I wouldn’t [have been able to] come back if I was being hard on myself,” Ntambue told me. “It’s just [being] more gentle […] I am still doing the work I have to do, but I’m more like, just have fun with it and just do your best because it didn’t work with me being hard on [myself].”
Ntambue explained how running allows her to clear her head and led to the realization that she prefers individual over team sports.
“[When I’m running], I’m free,” she said. “I’m just running [….] I don’t have time to think that’s so much better for me [….] I don’t have to depend on my teammates [….] I don’t mind being a team, but I’m more introverted.”
The increased pressure that came with her recent success at the McGill Team Challenge doesn’t stress Ntambue out like it used to. Instead, she welcomes it.
“I think pressure is a privilege,” Ntambue explained. “Not a lot of people get to have pressure [….] I’m really really here for the pressure because I know that all I’ve been doing, what I’ve had to do, my work ethic, it’s been towards that.”
After putting up a new McGill record in the 60-metre race last weekend, Ntambue hopes to get back to a point where she can represent Canada internationally, just as she did in 2018 at the Buenos Aires Youth Olympic Games for track and for the Team Canada under-16 International Basketball Federation Americas Tournament for basketball.
“I did it before,” Ntambue said. “That’s for sure my goal because I love the maple leaf. Who doesn’t love the maple leaf?”