It is more important to participate than to win; nothing embodies this Olympics slogan than the Special Olympics. The games are more about participants well being than winning or losing, writes Edna Kivuva

His innocent smile, long gaze in the air, a few incoherent words, immense energy in the field and intense concentration to the coach, will definitely attract your attention. Mr Ronak Sachania is among the special athlete's training in floor hockey and football in order to be selected to represent Kenya in the world winter Special Olympics in South Korea come January next year. 

His mother Ranjan Sachania, the vice chairperson in the committee for Down Syndrome society of Kenya, admits that whether a child is normal or special; parents will always face challenges raising them. However if the child is special like hers who has Down syndrome, their appreciation of the community depends on how a parent accepts them first.

“This games have made Ronak more confident, interactive with other children and he is always looking forward to Saturdays so that he can train with the other athletes”, she confirms.

The nineteen year old has down syndrome, but this does not deter him from realizing his dream of becoming an engineer. Ronak is pursuing a Diploma in electrical and electronics at SOS Children’s’ Villages Kenya College in Buruburu.

Overcoming Challenges

“I have been getting good reports from Ronak’s teachers, but the greatest challenge to him is that he cannot learn the theory part but can only do the vocational bit of the course. He has learnt a lot and can fix electrical appliances at home when they break down”, Ms Ranjan Sachania reminisces.

She admits that Parklands is far from Buruburu making transport expensive, thus she has to part with Ksh. 600 daily to hire a motorbike to take Ronak to college and fetch him in the evening. 

Ms Sachania who is the coordinator for parents support at the Kenya Special Olympics confesses that Ronak did not qualify to join the team going to the special world competitions. But she always ensures he comes for trainings every Saturday at the University of Nairobi grounds; “I hope next time he will be part of the next world competitions.” 

“We always take Ronak to the temple with us, because he loves music and dancing. We also go to the malls with him because we love him, he is our only child and everywhere we go people just love him” she says jovially. 

Future Plans

Ms Sachania plans to open up a shop dealing with electrical and electronic appliances in future where she hopes to incorporate her son. “I want him to be totally independent financially by the time he is thirty so that he can make his own decisions in life”, she asserts. 

Kenya Special Olympics Games Manager

The Games Manager at Kenya Special Olympics (KSO) Ms Susan Muinde encourages parents with children special needs to bring them for games. She affirms that when the parents get them to mingle with others it helps them to be social, calm and disciplined due to the rules in sports.

“It is so unfortunate that some people call people who are intellectually challenged; machizi, havuti waya, amefiatu, and worse in our local languages. Yet there is so much that people with special needs can achieve if supported”, she acknowledges.

Ms Sachania says that his son is very keen about everything he does, he is neat, and very independent. She notes that Ronak is currently going through a financial training so that he can know how to manage his money beside his Diploma course in electrical electronics. She can send him to the shop and be assured he will bring the correct change.

“I have realized that if you give Ronak a chance to learn, he is able to do it without any assistance and when you give him a gift, no matter how small he really appreciates. I call him my gift from God, whenever I go everyone wants to meet him because I am proud of him” she enthuses.  

Last year the Kenya team brought several medals from the World Summer Special Olympic Games in Greece. They were able to get 21 gold medals, 13 silver medals and 1 bronze medal which was a great triumph. 

Ms Muinde states that this year they have slotted the floor hockey games because most of the other games are in-door and they require ice like skating, skiing, among others which we do not have in Kenya.

“We have innovated local sticks and packs, which we have given to various clubs practicing floor hockey, we have challenges with the equipment and training grounds. But we are hoping as we near the winter games we will access an appropriate ground to train because we want to win gold”, Muinde hopes.  

Ms Muinde highlights that in October they will be pioneers in the first Africa Regional Special Games to compete for the unified cup to be held in South Africa. They have entered a unified football team for both those with and without intellectual disability, and they are expecting to win.

In September the Kenya Special Olympics team will be taking a swimming team to Puerto-Rico for an aquatic competition which is the only sport they will be participating in.

“We have health screening for our team to check whether our athletes are in good health because we realized that their health needs are at times neglected. We are going to have five screenings done by qualified doctors who are also trained by Kenya Special Olympics to cater for persons with special needs,” emphasized Ms Muinde.

It is more important to participate

The Special Olympics coach Mr Joshua Agare, articulates that for one to qualify to be a good athlete, discipline is required. He believes that everyone is a winner, the fact that one has made an attempt means they have tried and this to him is good enough.

“Our slogan is that we are winners and if we do not win at least we made an attempt”, Agare reiterates. Special Olympics does not focus on winning ribbons or medals. The fact that one has participated is enough to make one a hero. 

Mr Agare who is a former participant of the Special Olympic Games has won several medals; in 1995 he won two gold and one silver medals, while last year he won a silver medal in handball. 

Kenya Special Olympics started in 1978 and prides in being the oldest in Africa. The games started in the special schools that we have in the country. 

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Kenya’s curse of abundant talent

Team Kenya’s performance at the 2012 Olympics was disappointing. Two gold medals from a controversy laden camp full of joy-riders is a story we would like to forget fast. Before we press ‘delete’- Kenyatta Otieno takes a look at a blessing that may be turning into our curse in athletics.

When Ugandan Stephen Kiprotich ran away with the Marathon gold medal on the last day of 2012 Olympics, Kenyans were torn. Part of us wanted to be happy for our neighbours in the spirit of East African Cooperation for hearing their national anthem sang at the Olympics after 40 years. Then we were disappointed by our athletes’ failure to redeem the poor show at the last minute.

Forget our government officials surpassing our athletes in numbers and perks. Ignore the synchronized drinking and s-tipple chase that the officials took to in London. These may have contributed to the dismal performance but they are evidence of complacent attitude.

This is one Olympics the National Olympics Council of Kenya- NOCK will want to forget very fast. Before it is archived, I beg them to look at it with a clinical lens. The mistakes need to be owned and solutions sought, not as a punitive measure but more for progressive restitution.

The fall of the best

As Olympics progressed, FIFA released the World Football rankings and as usual Kenya dropped. The screaming fact was Brazil at position thirteen. It is not news when Kenya is below position one hundred but for Brazil to miss a top ten position, is hot cake of news.

That is where Kenya finds itself when we lose in middle and long distance races. Like Brazil in football, we never lack athletics talent; we have never been bothered about it since Kipchoge Keino won gold at the 1968 Mexico Olympics.

When Kaka (Ricardo) dips in form at Real Madrid and Ronaldinho drops at AC Milan to end up in Flemingo, it is no big deal for Brazil. Neymar and Oscar will rise to replace them, and Brazil opens a new phase in their national team seamlessly.

When Paul Tergat slowly went out of the marathon scene and Haile Gabrselasie broke his marathon record. It did not take long before the late Samuel Wanjiru won the Beijing Olympic gold and Patrick Makau snatched the record from King Haile.

We failed to shine on the tracks save for a good show from David Rudisha, Ezekiel Kemboi and “You Tube” javelin man Julius Yego. Brazil did much better in Olympic football but fell to Mexico in the finals, another anti-climax to a gifted side failing when it matters.

The curse of the gifted

Like Brazil, we are suffering from the curse of the gifted, prone to talented individuals but herein evident in a nation. Exceptional talent has become the rope with which many people have hanged themselves. It is the route to the gate of no return, but the few who return end up as a pale shadow of their former selves, reminiscing more of the good old days.

For a country to be able to produce many exceptional talents, any of which could make for a great career; having an abundance of choices is "both a blessing and a curse." It either makes one complacent or prone to self destructive tendencies, the former applies to national teams more so the officials.

Sadananad Vishwanath or simply Sada was an emerging gem of talent in Indian Cricket. In recent press interviews he looked back on his life with a certain calm resignation. “Fame is heady,” he said. “It is so sudden, it catches you unprepared. It is intoxicating; it gets to your head and messes with it.”

The fame and status that comes with winning may have gone into the head of NOCK as an organization and the officials as well. Like Sada, they got intoxicated by the fact that individual athletes train well and always win. The national trials have even been dabbed “world championships”- a tag which has led to complacency.

The winning works in two ways, it covers the complacency and mediocrity by blinding the public. Then the public basks in the glory our athletes bring without questioning. When we perform dismally, it exposes our officials’ lack of seriousness; we all know it is not about talent or the lack of it.

The scaffolding of greed

The tussle between athletes, Athletics Kenya and NOCK on the pre- Olympic Bristol Camp should have sounded alarm bells to the government. Ezekiel Kemboi went off to Bristol and flew back to train at Kasarani. There must have been more to this Bristol business than we got to hear. 

The fact is, by taking the athletes early, the officials were entitled to a KSH. 24,000 per day allowance. The camp was a good idea not to the team’s performance but for the officials pocket and desire for all paid for ‘holiday.’

Nike- the official Team Kenya kit suppliers experienced the Kenyan greed first hand. Athletes demonstrated to their London offices and they had to provide extra kits. The 200 kits supplied ended up with officials before the athletes, I wonder how they fit in them with their pot-bellies. Nike said the kits did not cover officials.

David Danford bought his own swimming kit and David Rudisha’s medal award ceremony had to be delayed as a ceremonial kit was sought. If Rudisha as captain did not get a ceremonial kit, then who did the officials expect to win a gold medal? If tribalism, nepotism and impunity are a threat to our nationhood, someone needs to save us from our greed. Greed is the scaffolding that we will hang on as a society.

We will still reign

We have not seen the last of Brazil and so we have not seen the last of Kenya yet. Nature has endowed us with the ability to produce runners with little or no organized effort. The way of life for children in the Rift Valley coupled with the prevailing environment works for us. No one can take this from us, not Ethiopians, Ugandans or even our greedy officials.

Ethiopia will specialize; there will be (Abebe) Bikila, (Deratu) Tulu, King Haile, then (Kenenisa) Bekele, successively. They always have one reigning athlete at a time; it is now (Tirunesh) Dibaba. Somalia born Mo Farah’s double win for Britain in 10,000 and 5,000 metres does not mean much, I doubt if Britain will import another top talent soon.

Kenya on the other hand can produce several top athletes at a time. This is the reason why I believe we will still rule the tracks for a long time to come. The other countries will capitalize on breaking the run of our specific athletes, but it will be temporary. 

This does not mean we relax, who knows- just as Spain has broken Brazil’s reign in World Football, someone could be plotting to end our reign in athletics. Let us learn from our mistakes in London and take our athletics seriously. Natural gifting is only a blessing to the wise, on the contrary it may just be a curse that brings gloom.

 

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