RWANDA’S fledgling wheelchair racing team is set to have its first big race today when the 10th edition of the MTN Kigali Peace Marathon gets underway at Amahoro Stadium.
Four athletes are entered into the 5-kilometre Run for Fun, according to Eric Karasira, executive secretary of the National Paralympic Committee of Rwanda.
Claude Habamenshi, Daniel Barakengera, Ernest Ndayishimiye and Lamazani Mutabaruka will all be making their maiden participation as wheelchair racers.
Speaking to Sunday Sport, Karasira said, “Our participation is to show that people with disabilities can do many things in sport,”
To Karasira, this race is just the starting point on the path to a bigger dream: sending a wheelchair racing team to the 2020 Summer Paralympics in Tokyo.
“Our goal is to add more sports and athletes in Paralympics,” Karasira said.
Rwanda has sent athletes to the Sydney, Athens, Beijing and London Paralympic Games, competing in athletics, power lifting and sitting volleyball.
Wheelchair racing has been a sport in the Paralympics since 1960. It is open to athletes who are amputees, who have spinal cord injuries or cerebral palsy, or who are partially sighted.
Building the Rwanda Paralympic wheelchair-racing team started last summer at a two-week workshop for East African wheelchair coaches hosted by the International Paralympic Committee in Nairobi.
Rwanda was given three racing wheelchairs by the IPC and the Agitos Foundation, said Karasira, who helped run the Nairobi camp, which provided them with the essential resources to start coaching athletes at home.
“Before we didn’t have wheelchairs for racing,” Karasira said. He said they only had regular wheelchairs, which are unsuitable for sport.
The Rwanda Paralympic Committee coaches brought the chairs and a wealth of new knowledge back to Kigali and began training on the track at Amahoro Stadium in January.
All four athletes are all brand new to wheelchair racing. They have been working with Coach Aimable Sibomana two times per-week, after a full day at work, to learn how to run in their chair. They spend one-and-a-half to two hours working on endurance and speed, starting and finishing techniques, and how to move the chair effectively.
“When we prepare for a competition like this we add other days so that the athletes become fit,” Sibomana said.
He said the athletes also had to learn how to prepare mentally for competition and get used to racing against a clock.
Sibomana further added that they hope to participate in the 2015 All-African Games and maybe even the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro.
The 5km wheelchair race starts at 7.45am with the three best athletes set to share Rwf 1million.