Commonwealth Games 2014: The amazing athletes who are already winners
A profile of the star competitors and their remarkable achievements
Chris Green is Senior Reporter at The Independent and i, covering all aspects of UK news. He has worked for the paper since 2007, first as a general news reporter and then on the news desk as Deputy News Editor. In 2010 he was on the launch team of the i. Shortly after returning to reporting in 2014, he spearheaded both papers’ coverage of the Scottish independence referendum.
Tuesday 22 July 2014
More than 4,500 athletes from 71 nations and territories will compete at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow over the next fortnight. All will hope for glory in their sport, but some of them have already had remarkable lives.
Maria Toorpakai Wazir
The 23-year-old Pakistani squash player was brought up in the highly conservative region of Waziristan, where girls are not allowed to play sport. In order to take part, she disguised herself as a boy by cutting her hair. Her family started receiving threats for allowing Wazir to play sport and she was eventually forced to practice in her room in case the squash court where she played was bombed. In 2011 she moved to Canada and joining a squash academy. “I am a warrior, I was born a warrior, I will die like a warrior,” she said.
The Rwandan cyclist lost 60 family members, including six brothers, during the genocide of 1994 which killed an estimated 800,000 people in 100 days.
Then aged seven, he survived the horror and took part in his first cycling race, the Tour of Rwanda, at the age of 16 on a bike that he borrowed from a relative. The 27-year-old has said of his sport: “It’s the thing that helps me forget my problems.”
Abdul Rashid Bangura
When he was a teenager, the 27-year-old middleweight boxer was forced to flee his home town of Makeni, Sierra Leone, as rebel forces from the Revolutionary United Front took over. A longing to see his father made him return, but he was captured and forced to work crushing rice. His trip to Glasgow will be his first out of Africa – but his father, formerly Sierra Leone’s boxing coach, will not be there to see it, as he died this year. “The only time my father was happy was when I was boxing,” Bangura said.
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In 1995, when she was two years old, the 21-year-old New Zealand swimmer’s legs were caught under a ride-on lawnmower being driven by her father, Garry, at the family home in Christchurch. Her left leg was amputated below the knee following the accident, but she took up swimming at the age of seven and went on to become a six-time Paralympic gold medallist. Her father has spoken of being haunted by what happened to his daughter, saying last year: “I don’t think I’ve really recovered from it… It just leaves a black dot in my life.
Seven years ago, he weighed 16 stone and smoked 20 cigarettes a day – now he runs marathons. The 40-year-old Englishman was selected for the squad after finishing a surprise 15th in this year’s London Marathon, becoming the third Briton to reach the finish line behind Mo Farah and Chris Thompson. Not bad for someone who only took up running in order to lose weight.
“It turned very quickly away from being a form of exercise to get healthy and lose weight to a competitive sport,” he said recently. “Within six months of starting this journey I’d almost forgotten why I started running – to lose weight and give up smoking – and it turned into more of a competitive hobby.”
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