Para sport: Nigo, Ayella bronze decorate busy Paralympic year

Wednesday January 2 2019

Revelation. Para-powerlifter Muhammad Nigo

Revelation. Para-powerlifter Muhammad Nigo flashing his continental medal. PHOTO BY ABDUL-NASSER SSEMUGABI 

By Abdul Nasser Ssemugabi

David Emong was virtually the only Paralympic story in 2016 and 2017.
What could have matched a Paralympic silver medal or a world para-athletics gold medal—both firsts in Uganda’s history—in a country where disability sport is just an emerging subsector?
But enter 2018, more potential Paralympians, and mostly debutants, have boarded the plane for workshops and tournaments, in the long build-up for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
While some have learnt vital playing and training skills, besides exposure, some have really added their names into our history pages.
First, Muhammad Nigo won a bronze medal in the world Africa Para-powerlifting Championship in Algeria, in August, his first event outside Uganda. In the 72kg category, Nigo, despite the struggles of being without a coach, manager, or even a costume, composed himself to a personal best 125kg lift, beating Libya’s Mosab Gharsalla and finishing behind—Nigeria’s Rio 2016 bronze winner Innocent Nnamdi and Algeria’s Billel Bouchefra, who got gold and silver respectively.
Just finishing among the top ten—in a tournament where many novices pulled out—had already earned him a ticket to the coveted Tokyo 2020 Games.
If he lifts himself above the inadequate facilitation, the ambitious son of sugar workers aims at scooping a silver medal in Tokyo.
Shooting miracle in Tunis
Nigo is not alone. After winning a surprise bronze medal in a para-shooting event in Tunisia in November, Richard Ayella is nursing similar dreams. Only that the UPDF war veteran has not qualified for Tokyo 2020 and will have to try his luck at qualifying events beginning February in the United Arab Emirates.
Shooting is a Paralympic sport Uganda just begun practicing in June under the Uganda Shooting Federation and Ayella, one of the seven soldiers from Mubende Rehabilitation Centre who represented Uganda, gathered 349 points to finish third in the 10m air rifle contest, behind Tunisia’s gold medallist Hassan Belghith [423 points], and Libya’s silver medallist Abdulgasem Elghashir [365 points].
Team Uganda used hired guns and if they can buy their own, Ayella and others believe they can do more wonders.
The teenagers
Disability sport, usually in countries where it is just picking, is dominated by adults. But the emergency of prepubescent athletes promises a better future. Swimmer Husnah Kukundakwe, who also won a bronze medal in Nairobi in February, and table tennis player Uthman Lukoye of Mbogo College, impressed at a training and classification clinic in Korea in October. Kukundakwe, 11, a primary six pupil at Sir Apollo Kaggwa Primary School, is keen to qualify for Tokyo 2020.

Training trainers
It was not about only athletes. 2018 also saw a training opportunity for athletes’ trainers in a workshop in Addis Ababa. Sam Mubajje, a sprinter from Mubende Rehabilitation Centre and Janet Rhoda Amoikori from St Francis Madera School for the blind, trained as athletics coaches. Ali Mukasa trained in para-volleyball, while Rosbel Kikomeko, trained as a powerlifting trainer. Many more across the country were also in Blaze Sports’ capacity building project that was hosted at CoRSU Hospital in November.

Thank you Mbarara
Nominating athletes for foreign duty can be hard without structures at home. The rotational policy of hosting the national Paralympic Gala in different regions of the country might still have it issues but this year’s edition in Mbarara was a success. More teams and athletes participated, and considering that Western Uganda had delayed in embracing disability sport, the athletes’ and fans’ turn up was a big plus.
Compared to Gulu 2017, where many teams did not participate, and some sports abandoned, the marathon that wowed masses in Mbarara town was a louder statement of ability while the promises by the sports minister Charles Bakkabulindi, who closed the ceremony, were lyrics of hope. And who still remembers that individual sports teams did not get their trophies?