In 2006, the loss of my hearing seemed like the end of the world. The music, singing, and conversations that brought me joy were suddenly silenced. However, I refused to let my disability define me. Fast forward 15 years, and I stand as a testament to the power of perseverance. Despite the challenges, I am now a successful graduate, employed professional, and internationally recognized athlete.
Discovering My Talent:
My journey as an athlete began quite unexpectedly. In 2014, during my high school years, the school organized its annual sports gala. I vividly remember being assigned to the Ghana house, although I had no interest in participating and had never taken part in any sports competitions before.
One day, a colleague urged me to join the athletics event. I lacked confidence in my running abilities, but he persisted, insisting that I give it a try. Reluctantly, I agreed and made my way to the starting point. To my astonishment, I finished first among the nine competitors in the 800m race. This unexpected triumph boosted my confidence, and I decided to attempt the 1500m race as well. To my delight, I finished second, securing a spot to
represent my school at the district level. It was at this point that I realized I had a talent for athletics and resolved to pursue it further.
Fast forward seven years, and I have proudly represented my country, Uganda, at the international level. I have carried the Ugandan flag high, becoming the inaugural champion at the 2019 Africa Deaf Athletics Championships in Nairobi, Kenya. I clinched a gold medal, setting a new African record in the 800m event. Furthermore, I achieved the distinction of world silver medalist at the 2021 World Deaf Athletics Championships held in Lublin, Poland.
As a woman with a disability competing in sports, these accomplishments have brought a profound sense of accomplishment and purpose to my life. Setting goals and striving to improve myself has positively impacted my overall well-being, fostering independence, and enabling me to overcome the stigma and discrimination associated with disabilities.
Despite my achievements, numerous barriers have tested my determination. The lack of encouragement and limited access to information about sporting opportunities have been significant hurdles. Often, I had to rely on Google searches to find information on competitions. Financial challenges further compounded the obstacles I faced. Many national sports organizations consider disability sports a lower priority, resulting in insufficient funding. Unfortunately, these financial constraints prevented me
from participating in significant events like the Deaf Olympics held in Caxias dosul, Brazil, in May 2022, leaving me heartbroken. While it may not be possible to resolve every issue I face, as a committed athlete, I must remain realistic about what is achievable given my circumstances. The crucial step is to ensure a realistic portrayal of my aspirations and effectively communicate with the Uganda National Council of Sports to align our objectives.
Although I am currently off the track, my experiences have taught me that perception is a complex matter. Just as we are unable to see our own noses, we often overlook our own brightest talents. These hidden strengths can manifest in unexpected places, just as I was never prepared or interested in participating in that very first competition at school. We may excel at things we perceive ourselves as being inadequate in.
My encouragement to young women, particularly those with disabilities, is to maintain a positive attitude towards themselves, participate in sports, and pursue a healthy lifestyle. Let us not confine ourselves to activities we are already skilled in, but instead, let us embrace new challenges and explore the vast opportunities the world has to offer.
My personal journey exemplifies the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. While challenges and barriers exist, it is essential to persevere and strive for realistic goals, given individual circumstances. By sharing my story, I hope to inspire and empower young women with disabilities to embrace their potential, break down societal barriers, and reach for their dreams. Together, let us shatter barriers and embark on a journey of self-discovery, unlocking the boundless possibilities that lie within each of us.
Globally, there are approximately 1 billion people living with disabilities, as reported by the World Health Organization (WHO). However, despite the immense potential, only a fraction actively participate in sports. The Paralympic Games, a testament to inclusivity, have played a pivotal role in showcasing the extraordinary athletic abilities of individuals with disabilities worldwide. In Uganda, statistics demonstrate a notable risez in participation among women with disabilities in various sports disciplines over the past decade. Organizations like the Uganda Deaf Sports Federation have been instrumental in creating opportunities for deaf athletes to compete at both national and international levels.
About the author:
Nyakato Jennifer is a former professional athlete and current POD Analyst at Uganda Breweries Limited. She has achieved remarkable success in sports, including winning a silver medal in the women’s 800m event at the 2021 World Deaf Athletics Championships in Lublin, Poland, and a gold medal at the 2019 African Deaf Athletics Championships in Nairobi, Kenya. Jennifer is actively involved in promoting inclusive sports as a board member of the Uganda Deaf Sports Federation (UDSF) and advocates for disability rights as a member of the National Union of Women with Disabilities Uganda (NUWODU) and a Disability Rights Ambassador at the Uganda Network on Law, Ethics, and HIV/AIDS (UGANET). Her dedication and accomplishments inspire others and drive positive change.