Kyalimpa: The champ who disability cannot hold down

Kyalimpa with her coach. PHOTO/COURTESY

What you need to know:

Vasta Kyalimpa went for Commonwealth competitions for the physically handicapped in the UK in 2014. She has been to Italy for the boat races. For three times, she has also taken part in the Indian Women’s Association competitions for PWDs

This year’s MTN Marathon kicked off on November 13, with the wheelchair race. The 10km race was for athletes with disabilities; amputees, spinal cord injuries, cerebral palsy and the partially sighted among others.

The marathon attracted 20 participants who were flagged off at the Lugogo by-pass around Kololo through Jinja road and back to the starting point. Among the participants was Vasta Kyalimpa who finished fourth.

This was not the first time she was  taking part in the annual marathon. The sports and gym enthusiast keeps training and goes to the gym very often to keep physically fit. She also uplifts children with mobility challenges.

“I could have done better, but my wheelchair had a fault. I kept fixing it on the way and lost a lot of time. Next time, I will perform much better. I am training again to keep fit and I am ready for new challenges,” she remarks.

Marathon is a lifestyle

Since 2008, Kyalimpa has been participating in the marathon, but it took her some time to make exercise a lifestyle. In 2012, she won the race for the category of the People With Disabilities (PWDs).

“In the first years,’ she recalls, “I was losing because I was not doing as much practice before the marathon. I continued running with people in my wheelchair, until the time I won in the category of the PWDs. The idea of having separate marathons came in later. We would all be flagged off at once on the same day and place. It was chaotic, but it gave us a sense of belonging that we were part of the community,” she recalls.

In 2013, she hit the gym and concentrated on power lifting. Her instructor, Charles Lukwago at Energy Centre, supported her. From lifting 10kg, Kyalimpa now lifts up to 80kg.

Turning point

After watching her interest in weight lifting, Mpindi Bumali, the president of the Uganda National Action on Physical Disability, registered, sponsored and transported Kyalimpa for the Commonwealth competitions for the physically handicapped in the UK Scotland, in 2014.

This was her turning point.

“I realised that even if I am less educated, I can traverse the world because there are several opportunities for us. It is just about the change of mindset,” she adds.

Kyalimpa never focused on her illiteracy or disability. Whenever there was an opportunity, she seized it. In 2017, she went to Italy for the boat races. For three times, she has also taken part in the Indian Women’s Association competitions for PWDs. From these competitions, she gets some money, which she uses to buy sewing machines from which she gets daily income.

Who is she?

Kyalimpa, the last born in her family, was born a normal child, but became disabled at four years, after suffering from a severe fever that got her limbs (both legs) paralysed.

“While the rest of my siblings went to school, I stayed home. No one carried me to school because it was a distance away. I crawled and got left behind by my siblings as they hurried to get to school on time,” she recalls.

Growing up, she faced a lot of injustices and stigma not only from her family, but in the community as well. She was branded all sorts of names, which caused her misery and as a way of changing her sad past, she advocates for people with disabilities.

The 35-year-old single mother has a daughter at university. She felt the sting of stigma one day, when she visited her daughter and one of her daughter’s friends told her that her mother was a disgrace to her.

“The friend told her that she should instead ask my sister to visit her. I felt like I had been stabbed but I forgave her because I realised that many of the children do not know that PWDs deserve to be treated equally,” she says.

Changing the narrative

In 2018, Uganda Society for Disabled Children (USDC) contacted Kyalimpa to support children with disability to change their mindset. Her area in Makindye, a Kampala suburb, has about 50 children who gather at St Ponsiano Kyamula Church (Salaama Road) every Wednesday to engage in different sports to keep fit, use their leisure time productively as well as compete in numerous sporting activities.

“I connect children with disabilities with those without. This create awareness among the children that PWDs also exist and should not be stigmatised,”

Kyalimpa used to go to the gym three times a week, but now she dedicates one of the days for the children to help them build their self-esteem.

“When children with disabilities are here, we help them improve their mobility and are able to associate with other children. They are also change their mindset that they can make it in life despite their disability,” she adds.

Joram Bagagga, a fellow coach with disability describes Kyalimpa as a woman with a positive outlook towards life. He says she is very enterprising, selfless and uses her time and resources to touch the lives of other persons, especially those that are disabled.

“From her story, she makes us believe in life and all the good things it has to offer. She is very passionate about her work and sometimes fails to coach even if just one of the children is not well,” Bagagga says.

With her support, about 15 children have been able to join St Ponsiano Kyamula Primary School and Mugagga says, “Whenever she is here, all the children are happy because she listens to them and is also a good leader. In her wheelchair, she is able to reach out to each child regardless of their disability,” he adds.

According to Kyalimpa, children have needs beyond what she can provide. She says some parents who took their children to school are unable to pay school fees. Some of them need money for surgeries, especially those with Down Syndrome and other disabilities. “We also need sports and play items, clothes, medical and financial support.

What she does

Although she did not go to school, she is able to take care of herself. 

Before joining the world of sports, Kyalimpa sewed clothes using her firmer  right leg for sale.  Today, this is how she still makes her daily income to sustain herself.

She says, “I now have three sewing machines, which help me get daily income for sustainability. I use one and hire the two out. This is how I am also able to pay tuition fees for my daughter who is at university,” she adds.

Easing mobility

When she is not in the gym or sewing clothes at her home in Makindye, Kyalimpa is usually at St Ponsiano Kyamula supporting children with mobility challenges to play and socialise. For those that are neglected and abandoned, she looks out for their parents or guardians.

“I receive calls of children with disabilities locked up at their homes and I remember what I went through. When I get directions to their residences, I visit and speak to the parents or guardians on how to make them thrive with their disabilities” she says.

After convincing the parents, Kyalimpa with support from Uganda Society of Disabled Children enrols children at a school that is inclusive and is within Makindye.

She says, “St Ponsiano Kyamula Primary School is the nearest and many of our children are there. We also train the normal children to make such children their friends. On play days, children socialize and this helps them to stay in school, because they feel accepted and loved.”

Future plans

She plans to start a wheelchair basketball team and sewing classes for the children in Makindye and also help as many children as possible.

Kyalimpa is always on the look out to help the less privileged children and about 50 children are under her care.

Her worry is that the organisation that is funding them is about to stop and does not know what next for these children who have been in school because she cannot support them on her own.

Against all odds

Change agent

When Kyalimpa is not in the gym or sewing clothes, she goes to St Ponsiano Kyamula, to support children with mobility challenges. She helps them play and socialise and those that are abandoned, she looks out for their parents or guardians.

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