Beth in Uganda Blog Series – Part 4: Sporting Leg-ends

Bethany / Football, Uganda

Saturday saw the third annual Kampala Capital City Authority Para-sports Gala – a day of celebration for adaptive sports and people with disabilities.  The event was specifically for disability sports in the Kampala region with each of the divisions competing against one another in wheelchair basketball, seated volleyball, deaf football and amputee football. As a field hockey player and general fitness enthusiast I love sport. It fascinates me what the human body is capable of and having spent the majority of my adult life working with people that are differently able it never ceases to amaze me how para-atheletes overcome their physical challenges to perform in sporting activities. Plus, despite being with Legs4Africa for four years I have never once seen an amputee football game! I was definitely looking forward to getting a bit of an education.

Players, organisers and friends!
Second from the left is Munyambabazi Alex and centre is Mujini Charlotte from the newly registered Uganda Amputee Self-Help Network who volunteer their time offering amputees peer to peer support

Loads of our awesome new mates were there; Federation for Uganda Amputee Football Association President Kitimbo Lawrence came along to officiate and Mugerwa Alex, Secretary for the federation was Kewempe Amputee Football Club team captain. Both of whom I met when they came to the Mulago group meeting to talk about amputee football. Their opposition was Nakawa Amputee Football Team lead by captain Bumbuli Isaac. Munyambabazi Alex from the Uganda Amputee Self-Help Network, who you will get to know later in this post and better still in blogs to come, was also playing for Nakawa. Last but not least, our good friend Kalibbala Mark who visited HQ with the Mulago staff in May was participating in the wheelchair basketball – which is absolutely savage by the way. In fact, Mark was in Nairobi a couple of weeks ago where the national wheelchair basketball team were competing in the East African Zone V Championship.

Mark waiting to be called on the court.
The wheelchairs used for wheelchair basketball are difficult to get hold of in Uganda, not to mention expensive, so players share the limited number of chairs they have

If you ever get the chance to see wheelchair basketball I would strongly encourage you to go! The pure physicality of the game makes it massively entertaining but it sure aint for the light hearted! Those folks are seriously tough! Players of the sport do not have to be full time wheelchair users so anyone who qualifies as having a lower limb disability can play. Double amputee Kevin, who represented Kewempe Division had both legs amputated when he was just three months old as a result of contracting polio. He explained that he had a set of prosthesis made but the limited resources and the presentation of his stumps meant that he found them uncomfortable and unstable. Kevin hasn’t given up hope of one day having legs but until then he celebrates the capabilities of his body as it is by playing wheelchair basketball and defending his title as National Wheelchair Racing Champion.

Wheelchair basketball player and Ugandan wheelchair racing champion Kevin at Saturday’s KCCA Para-sport Gala
Kevin and team mate Joseph showcasing their focus and athleticism on the court

The amputee football was due to kick off at 3pm which on African time is usually the time scheduled plus at least an hour so it kicked of at precisely the time it kicked off. You just have to roll with it. I was super excited to watch my first ever amputee football match and it’s been such a huge part of our project in The Gambia, frankly, I felt like I was missing out! The six outfield players with a lower limb amputation must use crutches for the duration of the game play where as the goalkeepers have both legs but one arm. The quality was high as many of the players also play for the Ugandan Amputee Cranes, the national amputee football team. The game drew an impressive crowd who lined the adjacent street, something Amputee Football Federation president Kitimbo Lawrence strives for as he sees the sport as integral part of sensitizing the wider community to limb loss. Lawrence, now twenty-four, was involved in a road traffic accident when he was fourteen in which there were multiple fatalities, one of whom was Lawrence’s brother. Actively participating in the progression of the sport is Lawrence’s way of celebrating being given a second chance but also to commemorate the lives that were taken far too soon.

Kitimbo (left) is the current President of the Federation of Uganda Amputee Football and Munyambabzi (right) player for Nakawa Amputee Football Team and founder of the Uganda Amputee Self-Help Network

Similarly for Munyambabazi Alex who fell victim to a landmine blast in 2005, having always led an active lifestyle, he continues to pursue his sporting passions proving to other amputees and able bodied persons alike that “life goes on… From the time I completed my military training I was on the front line. I lost my leg but I saw my friends lose their lives so every day I don’t just live for myself; I live for them too.”

Amputee Football has it’s own set of pitch dimensions, goal size and the number of players on the pitch is seven instead of eleven
Plenty of interest in the football match from passers by. Unsurprising as there was more than just this one epic going to ground!
Amputees are not permitted to wear their prosthesis when playing amputee football

I caught the tail end of the seated volleyball but would like to have seen more but the timing clashed with the football. The day was a great celebration of abilities, showcasing both the physical and mental strength of para-athletes. Joining the festivities were students from the Uganda School for the Deaf and Uganda School for the Physically Handicapped which only added to the day’s energy – I just hope they felt as inspired as I did!