HARDWORK and commitment are key ingredients and critical tools that athletes use to achieve greatness in various sporting disciplines, but for the visually impaired, it takes one to possess those vital tools coupled with confidence and self esteem to attain self actualisation.
The heterogeneous nature of sport has seen people, disabled and able-bodied of different backgrounds, beliefs, religions and abilities showcased their talents and compete for nothing but success.
The world of Paralympics in Zambia harbours immense talent in young men and women who do amazing things under extraordinary circumstances and some just don’t know when to stop.
Last week on this platform, the spotlight was on two paralympians Richard Lubanza and George Mwale who are set to represent the country at the World Paralympic Powerlifting Championships that will take place in the United Arab Emirates’ capital Dubai next month.
As this column strives to be an inclusive platform of all forms of sports activities, this edition looks at some of the outstanding visually-impaired athletes who have risen above their physical challenges to prove to the whole world that disability is not inability.
”I urge everyone to look at individuals with … disabilities in a different light. If given a chance, these individuals can make a mark in whatever discipline they are guided through. If guided well, they will excel in whatever they attempt to do,” once said late former President for the Republic of South African, Nelson Mandela.
True to these words, Zambia’s Anna Kayange Simfukwe has always aimed at getting the best out of what she is in the area of sports.
Many youths in her condition could sit back and wallow in self-pity but she has chosen a path knowing there is so much to prove and do out in the world, while looking at her future positively.
She said, “Running is something that I always wanted in and I felt nothing was going to derail me from pursuing my dream and thank God, I have been able to win for my country, something I will always remember and cherish. For now, my vision is to become a world-class Athlete and compete among the world’s greatest.”
The 20-year-old blind athlete’s antics on the track and field never cease to amaze spectators and more surprising is that neither financial challenges nor disability seem to be slowing her down in her quest to succeed as her running pace is picking up, to what might be called extreme degrees.
For Anna, lining up to participate in a particular competition is in itself an achievement because she is visually-impaired and has about 10 per cent vision compared to a person with full sight.
Aside from the sight issues, the young star has albinism, a biological condition that is inherited through genetic transfer.
Against all odds, Anna has added to Zambia’s collection of medals won during various international events by a cadre of determined athletes.
This golden made Zambia proud during the 2012 Zone Six Games held in Zambia when she outclassed her opponents in the 100 metres T12 race to claim a gold medal for mother Zambia.
One may be wondering how visually impaired sprinters compete, well, like in most track events, the winner is the fastest athlete to complete the distance of the race. This means that the results take into account the degree of the impairments of each competitor.
The International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) whose mission is to promote the full integration of blind and partially sighted people in society through sport and to encourage people with a visual impairment to take up sports, has classified different levels of visual impairments in T11, T12 and T13 classes.
The classes signify the degree of one’s impairment and athletes compete according to their classes.
According to the Optics experts, Athletes in class T12 where Anna competes can recognise the shape of a hand and perceive clearly up to 2/60. Their visual field than 5 degrees while those in T13 can also recognise the shape of a hand and can perceive clearly above 2/60 and up to 6/60.
But individuals in the T13 class have visual field that varies between more than five degrees and less than 20 degrees and their vision is peripheral.
To level the playing field, athletes undergo a process of classification, which ensures that those with similar degrees of disability compete against each other in each event.
The classification process, which involves evaluation by authorised technical officials and the evaluations are done before, during and after the competition
Now Athletes like Anna do not race on their own, they need a guide runner who ensures that they do not step out of their tracks. How does this work? A guide must be a sighted individual who uses a loop tied around his hand and that of a visually-impaired sprinter and the sole purpose of this is to control the latter’s running within the tracks to avoid disqualification and falling or bumping into objects.
Victory is team effort even though the blind runner must be the one to cross the finishing line.
Another visually-impaired Athlete who delivered medals at the Zone Six Games was Penza Munkombwe who claimed gold after competing in the 1500 metres T13 class, timing four minutes, 45 seconds on the clock.
Penza also won a bronze medal in 800 metres, crossing the finishing line in two minutes, 15 seconds.
He looks forward to competing at the Paralympic event in future.
The two athletes’ accomplishments are just an example of what the visually-impaired in Zambia can attain, and given their enthusiasm in sport, there is need for the financial incentives that are equal those of their able-bodied counterparts.
So far, they have done exceptionally well and the country must be proud of them for they truly deserve to be recognised in one way or the other.
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