by Danielle A. Frempong
This and many similar jokes were posted on social media about African countries by Africans during the Olympics. While they were a mix of humor and truth, and in some way reflected the performance of the African Olympians compared to the rest of the world, these jokes could not be extended to our African Paralympians at the 2016 Rio Paralympics. Having a representation from more than 80 percent of the countries on the continent and leaving the competition with more than 60 medals, our Paralympians rose to the task, defied all odds and sashayed away with their stories of success. Basically, in response to the derogatory jokes, our Paralympians were screaming ‘miss me with that negativity!’ because they were shattering glass ceilings and stereotypes and of course, breaking records.
This year at the Paralympics, the African athletes have collectively shown that athletic excellence is spread across the continent. The Kenyan athletes as per the usual trend in Olympics, dominated the marathon races by winning gold in the 5000m and in the 1500m T11 athletic events. Still on the Eastern front, Nambal Johannes and Shikogo Ananias won silver and bronze medals respectively in 100m T13 and 100m T11 events. Our Northern Africans rose to the task and excelled in shot-put when Nouiri Azeddine from the Moroccan team won the gold medal, setting the pace for other Moroccan athletes to strive for higher excellence. South Africa left the competition being the African country with the highest number of medals although overall it came in second, following closely after Nigeria who swept away the largest number of gold medals for Africa. Our team of Paralympians were so successful this year, and we spotted some extremely unique stories. We had the youngest ever double amputee runner take away a silver medal and a four-times Paralympic participant in weightlifting, win gold and break the world record.
Meet A few of the Paralympic stars from Africa:
14-year-old Ntando Mahlangu of South Africa was born with hemi-melia and so from birth had to rely on others and a wheelchair to get around. Both of his legs were amputated at the age of 10 and four years down the line, he holds two world records and has won a silver medal at this year’s Rio 2016 Paralympics in the 200m men’s race. For him, being a double amputee never put him in any disadvantage. In an interview with Sunday Times (South Africa), he said ‘I always had confidence in myself whether with legs or without legs.’ Ntando is what I choose to call persistently confident and unbelievably positive. His persistence in seeing himself as equal regardless of what may seem as a limitation can clearly be seen in everything he does,especially in the way he approaches his sporting career. He is a rising star and an exceptional example of an individual whose disability does not define his capabilities.
Another athlete who is breaking boundaries is Lucy Ejike from Nigeria. Besides being the captain of the entire Nigerian Paralympic team, she has prior to Rio 2016, appeared and excelled in 4 Paralympic Games. At the Rio Paralympics, she successfully carried a 61kg weight and currently holds the world record. Ejike’s story is simply exceptional; she was born without a deformity but soon developed polio when her parents overlooked the importance of vaccination; a tragic and avoidable circumstance. She did not stop there, her resilience and passion led her to become the captain of the Nigerian team. She is a clear example that Black women with disability in fact can thrive wherever they wish.
The Paralympic games truly reflect our belief that disability is not inability. It is inspiring for us at at Dislabelled when we see African Paralympians excelling and breaking bounds. However, what we all do not see on the tarmac or on the podiums as they receive their awards is the amount of support they receive to reach where they are. Ntando for example, has been a part of Jumping Kids, a non-profit organization whose ‘dream is to provide prosthetic solutions geared for optimum results’ since he was ten. It was Jumping Kids that helped him receive his prostheses and gave him the adequate support to learn to walk with them. While Ntando’s resilience and dedication can take him far, without adequate support from the community, he could not have realized his full potential. That is what we at Dislabelled are trying to obtain; we believe that as a continent, we must reach a place where having a disability does not even determine whether or not an individual can thrive and live a completely fulfilled life. We want to build a community where those like Ntando and every Ejike can achieve their dreams.