At the age of 2, I contracted Polio. At this time, outbreaks were common with approximately 350,000-400,000 cases being reported yearly. From being a young boy I felt I had to prove myself and use fame as an opportunity to raise awareness for people with disabilities and change engrained perceptions that disabled people are ‘social parasites’, ‘beggars’ and ‘cursed’. This is my story.
In 1983, I was born into a peasant family living in Saligu, an upper east region of Ghana. Contracting Polio in 1985, my left leg became disfigured. I crawled until I was 10 years old where I began walking with the assistance of a wooden stick. I knew at a young age, the only way for me to succeed in life was to be educated. After persuading my farming father with the support of my mother, auntie and cousin, I attended my local primary school whilst working hard on the farm to fund my education.
Whilst attending schooling, I discovered my passion for sports by picking up football, swimming and cycling. Little did I know at the time did I see my passion for sport being the catalyst to beating my disability and inspiring change.
Completing junior and senior school locally, I then moved to Accra to further my education. I joined the Ghana Society of the Physically Disabled (GSPD) and then qualified for the Ghana National Amputee Soccer Team in 2007. We won the Amputee African Cup in Sierra Leone later that year. This opened more doors of opportunity to further my education. GSPD sourced me employment in Accra so I could fund tertiary education whilst continuing to compete professionally. Unfortunately, in preparation for the Amputee World Cup in Turkey, I broke my disfigured leg so I was ruled out of competition.
I believe courage is not the absence of fear but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear itself. After I recovered, I met Naomi O’reilly, a sports scientist working with the GSPD. Through her hard work and support, she made me realize my cycling talent. The power of two wheels helped my mobility considerably and provided me the opportunity to compete on an international stage again.
Since 2009, I have won three UCI African Paracycling Championship in the C2 category, competed in championships in Italy and Denmark and represented Ghana in the London 2012 Paralympic Games. In London, unfortunately I contracted chickenpox so could not compete. At the time, I was ranked 2nd in UCI World Rankings up until June 2013.
My journey to London was life changing. Supported by the Ghana Cycling Federation and Right to Dream, I was privileged to be coached by Alex Main, UK Youngest ever Paralympic Coach. As well being an excellent coach, she shared my passion for education so we set up the Alem Foundation to provide young children pre-primary education, health and welfare.
We believe education is the tool to eradicate poverty, improve disability equality and beat diseases like polio. The positive effect of education has consistently correlated to better quality of life. In Ghana access to better education and health services has attributed to increased literacy rates, higher income/capita, higher life expectancy but most importantly eradication of diseases like Polio. Deaths from polio are now near zero today compared to thousands in the 80’s.
A polio survivor, I believe God has empowered me to be an ambassador for the next generation. I am currently training hard to qualify for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games to fulfill my life-long dream of winning Ghana’s first Paralympic Medal. I continue to advocate for social equality for disabled people and am proud be an ambassador for End Polio Now to help end the paralyzing effects of polio on children around the world.
Please visit the Alem Foundation website to learn more about our mission and achievements to date. www.alemfoundation.com