With the road race events at the London Paralympic Games now just a few days away, Ghana’s African champion Alem Mumuni is putting the finishing touches to preparations that could lead to him becoming the West African country’s first Paralympic medallist. The 29-year-old has spent the last six weeks in the UK and says that even if he doesn’t win the medal that some are predicting he is capable of taking, he will still be a happy man having achieved his ambition of competing in the Paralympics.
The son of peasant farmers in the Garu-Tempane district of Ghana, Mumuni was affected by poliomyelitis at the age of two and for the next eight years he was only able to get around by crawling. Given a walking stick at the age of 10, he soon got involved in a variety of sports. Mumuni went on to become a member of Ghana’s amputee football team, before discovering his talent on two wheels.
“I don’t just ride for riding’s sake. I’ve got real passion for riding a bicycle,” says Mumuni, who is set to become Ghana’s first Paralympian cyclist. “The Paralympics is my greatest ambition, and this ambition will help me in my journey. I want to change people’s perceptions about people with physical disabilities. I have seen that the talent I have is one of the tools that I can use to do that.”
Mumuni and his three teammates on the Ghana’s Paralympic squad have been supported in their ambitions by Right to Dream, a sports, education and leadership academy in Ghana that provides young and underprivileged athletes across a whole range of sports with access to better opportunities. The academy’s goal is to foster development in Africa sustainably by increasing the number and quality of role models who can inspire positive change.
As part of this strategy, Right to Dream and Ghana’s National Paralympic Committee have developed a programme to support the athletes’ training and provide them with equipment. The quartet have been training at the Right to Dream Academy since 2011.
They travelled to Britain in July, initially spending a month at a training camp at Exeter University, where they used High-Performance Unit and strength and conditioning facilities, and were also given sports science and nutritional advice.
They moved on to a two-week training camp at the University of Bedford. During this period Mumuni competed in two time trials with Bedford Road Club, surprising club members with his speed. He was made an honorary member of the club, receiving a club jersey and cap.
“Since we’ve been in England it’s been fantastic, especially getting access to the gym. We don’t have enough ways to express our gratitude, considering what they have done to help us in our sports careers and especially towards these Paralympics Games. They’ve really shown great hospitality,” says Mumuni, who has already represented Ghana in World Paracycling Championships, most notably when finishing seventh in Italy in 2009.
Mumuni’s first taste of Paralympic action will come on September 5 in the C2 time trial at the Brands Hatch motor-racing circuit that is hosting the Paralympic road events. The following day, he is due to line up in the C1-C3 road race.
“I do not feel like I’m doing something extraordinary. But I get the chance to shine my little light in the darkness,” says Mumuni. “I am using the sport and my disability to show that human ability can overcome bodily limitations.”
He adds: “In life there are obstacles and no one can make you who you want to be except you yourself. The background you come from can’t stop you from becoming the person you want to be in life.”
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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).