Rwanda athletes lay ghosts to rest


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It has been a long road to the London 2012 Paralympics for the Rwandan men's sitting volleyball team, which is the best in Africa.It has been a long road to the London 2012 Paralympics for the Rwandan men’s sitting volleyball team, which is the best in Africa.

Team captain Dominique Bizimana told CNN: I think we are superstars. For us disability is nothing. We are able. We are making sure we tell people disability is nothing. It is not inability.Team captain Dominique Bizimana told CNN: “I think we are superstars. For us disability is nothing. We are able. We are making sure we tell people disability is nothing. It is not inability.”

Most of the players are amputees from the country's 1994 genocide.Most of the players are amputees from the country’s 1994 genocide.

As many as one million people were killed when a civil war between the majority Hutus and minority Tutsis broke out.As many as one million people were killed when a civil war between the majority Hutus and minority Tutsis broke out.

Hundreds of thousands of people were left maimed, but sport has provided an outlet for many and helped reconciliation between the two communities. Both Hutus and Tutsis are in the volleyball team.Hundreds of thousands of people were left maimed, but sport has provided an outlet for many and helped reconciliation between the two communities. Both Hutus and Tutsis are in the volleyball team.

The game itself is fast paced and, according to the team's Dutch coach, technically more demanding than able-bodied volleyball.The game itself is fast paced and, according to the team’s Dutch coach, technically more demanding than able-bodied volleyball.

The team's training facilities in the capital Kigali are basic. The players hope to spring a surprise or two, but lost their opening game to Iran, one of the favorites for gold.The team’s training facilities in the capital Kigali are basic. The players hope to spring a surprise or two, but lost their opening game to Iran, one of the favorites for gold.

The Rwandans will also face Brazil, China and Bosnia-Herzegovina in Pool B.
The Rwandans will also face Brazil, China and Bosnia-Herzegovina in Pool B.


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Kigali, Rwanda (CNN) — The small group of young men walk confidently into the gymnasium in the Rwandan capital of Kigali, sit down and casually unfasten their legs.

Each prosthetic limb is of differing sizes and shapes. Some are adorned with Nike trainers, others Puma. Each is left abandoned by the wheelchairs that circle the small volleyball court drawn out on to the hard concrete surface as their owners take to the floor and artfully glide into position.

It has been a tough month for the Rwandan sitting volleyball team. Every day has seen double practice sessions. They have the biggest matches of their lives to prepare for: a Sub-Saharan qualification tournament against the likes of Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

It is due to take place on home soil, in Kigali, and the Rwandans are the favorites. But it’s not local bragging rights at stake. The winner secures a place at the 2012 London Paralympics.

U.S. swimmer Jessica Long enters the swimming pool during a training session on Day 2 of the London 2012 Paralympic Games on Friday, August 31. The Games run until September 9. Check back daily for new photos.U.S. swimmer Jessica Long enters the swimming pool during a training session on Day 2 of the London 2012 Paralympic Games on Friday, August 31. The Games run until September 9. Check back daily for new photos.

Thailand's Choochat Sukjarern attempts a lift during the Men's -52 kg powerlifting.Thailand’s Choochat Sukjarern attempts a lift during the Men’s -52 kg powerlifting.

Chinese Zhoubin Wang, left, chases the ball during the men's team football five-a-side match against Turkey.Chinese Zhoubin Wang, left, chases the ball during the men’s team football five-a-side match against Turkey.

Croatian Darko Kralj competes in the men's shotput final.Croatian Darko Kralj competes in the men’s shotput final.

Great Britain's Ryan Cockbill lines up his shot at the shooting range during the P2-10-meter air pistol SH1 final.Great Britain’s Ryan Cockbill lines up his shot at the shooting range during the P2-10-meter air pistol SH1 final.

British gold medalist Hannah Cockroft poses on the podium during the victory ceremony in the Women's 100-meter T34 wheelchair race.British gold medalist Hannah Cockroft poses on the podium during the victory ceremony in the Women’s 100-meter T34 wheelchair race.

Competitors take part in the dressage equestrian event.Competitors take part in the dressage equestrian event.

Chinese Qi Feng is congratulated by his coach Weipo Li for his gold during the medal ceremony of the Men's -52 kg powerlifting.Chinese Qi Feng is congratulated by his coach Weipo Li for his gold during the medal ceremony of the Men’s -52 kg powerlifting.

Ukrainian Dmytro Solovey, in white, and Mexican Eduardo Avila Sanchez compete in the Men's 73-kilogram judo semifinals.Ukrainian Dmytro Solovey, in white, and Mexican Eduardo Avila Sanchez compete in the Men’s 73-kilogram judo semifinals.

Hannah Cockroft of Great Britain competes in the women's 100 meters on day 2 of the London 2012 Paralympic Games at Olympic Stadium on Friday, August 31.Hannah Cockroft of Great Britain competes in the women’s 100 meters on day 2 of the London 2012 Paralympic Games at Olympic Stadium on Friday, August 31.

Lahouari Bahlaz of Algeria competes in the men's club throw on Friday.Lahouari Bahlaz of Algeria competes in the men’s club throw on Friday.

Sophie Pascoe of New Zealand in action during the women's 50-meter freestyle.Sophie Pascoe of New Zealand in action during the women’s 50-meter freestyle.

Julie Rogers, from left, Jessica Frezza, Martine Wright and Andrea Green of Great Britain react to a point during the opening game of the womens sitting volleyball tournament against Ukraine.Julie Rogers, from left, Jessica Frezza, Martine Wright and Andrea Green of Great Britain react to a point during the opening game of the womens sitting volleyball tournament against Ukraine.

A spectator gets into the athletics action on Friday.A spectator gets into the athletics action on Friday.

A competitor walks across the athletics track.A competitor walks across the athletics track.

James Crisp of Great Britain swims in the men's 100-meter backstroke.James Crisp of Great Britain swims in the men’s 100-meter backstroke.

Mark Colbourne of Great Britain competes in the men's individual cycling event.Mark Colbourne of Great Britain competes in the men’s individual cycling event.

Ukraine's Alla Lysenko (second in row) prepares to take part in the women single sculls heat on Friday.Ukraine’s Alla Lysenko (second in row) prepares to take part in the women single sculls heat on Friday.

Great Britain's Ade Oregbemi takes a tumble in the preliminary men's wheelchair basketball match, which Germany won 77-72, on Thursday, August 30.Great Britain’s Ade Oregbemi takes a tumble in the preliminary men’s wheelchair basketball match, which Germany won 77-72, on Thursday, August 30.

The Great Britain team leaves the court losing to China during the women's goalball match between China and Great Britain.The Great Britain team leaves the court losing to China during the women’s goalball match between China and Great Britain.

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 31: General view of Greenwich Park equestrian venue as competitors take part the Dressage event on day 2 of the London 2012 Paralympic Games at Greenwich Park on August 31, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)LONDON, ENGLAND – AUGUST 31: General view of Greenwich Park equestrian venue as competitors take part the Dressage event on day 2 of the London 2012 Paralympic Games at Greenwich Park on August 31, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

China's Zheng Tao celebrates breaking the world record after winning the men's 100-meter backstroke swimming event.China’s Zheng Tao celebrates breaking the world record after winning the men’s 100-meter backstroke swimming event.

Gold medalist Sarah Storey of Great Britain poses on the podium during the victory ceremony for women's cycling.Gold medalist Sarah Storey of Great Britain poses on the podium during the victory ceremony for women’s cycling.

The Australian women's wheelchair basketball team huddles and celebrates their victory during their preliminary basketball game against Brazil.The Australian women’s wheelchair basketball team huddles and celebrates their victory during their preliminary basketball game against Brazil.

Fans watch the preliminary wheelchair men's basketball match between Great Britain and Germany, which Germany won 77-72.Fans watch the preliminary wheelchair men’s basketball match between Great Britain and Germany, which Germany won 77-72.

The United States' Jessica Long, left, and Ukraine's Kateryna Istomina compete in the women's 100-meter butterfly.The United States’ Jessica Long, left, and Ukraine’s Kateryna Istomina compete in the women’s 100-meter butterfly.

British swimmer Anthony Stephens prepares for the men's 50-meter freestyle final.British swimmer Anthony Stephens prepares for the men’s 50-meter freestyle final.

The Netherlands' Inge Huitzing passes the ball as Britain's Laurie Williams, left, and Caroline Maclean defend during the preliminary women's group A wheelchair basketball match.The Netherlands’ Inge Huitzing passes the ball as Britain’s Laurie Williams, left, and Caroline Maclean defend during the preliminary women’s group A wheelchair basketball match.

Prince William and his wife, Catherine, applaud as they watch British cyclist Sarah Storey break a world record in her C5 individual pursuit heat.Prince William and his wife, Catherine, applaud as they watch British cyclist Sarah Storey break a world record in her C5 individual pursuit heat.

Natalie du Toit of South Africa competes in the women's 100-meter butterfly heat.Natalie du Toit of South Africa competes in the women’s 100-meter butterfly heat.

A volunteer moves the prosthetic leg of Sven Decaesstecker of Belgium during the men's SM10 200-meter individual medley swimming heat.A volunteer moves the prosthetic leg of Sven Decaesstecker of Belgium during the men’s SM10 200-meter individual medley swimming heat.

Natalie Smith of Australia competes in the Women's R2-10-meter air rifle standing SH1 finals.Natalie Smith of Australia competes in the Women’s R2-10-meter air rifle standing SH1 finals.

Arnulfo Castorena of Mexico competes in the men's 50-meter breast stroke SB2 heat 1.Arnulfo Castorena of Mexico competes in the men’s 50-meter breast stroke SB2 heat 1.

British fans cheer on Ben Quilter during judo competition Thursday.British fans cheer on Ben Quilter during judo competition Thursday.

Jianping Ruan of China competes in the women's individual C4 pursuit cycling qualifying.Jianping Ruan of China competes in the women’s individual C4 pursuit cycling qualifying.

Jack Bridge, right, of Great Britain prepares to compete in the men's 200-meter individual medley - SM10 heat 2.Jack Bridge, right, of Great Britain prepares to compete in the men’s 200-meter individual medley – SM10 heat 2.

Rebecca Dubber of New Zealand competes in the women's 100-meter backstroke S7 heat 1.Rebecca Dubber of New Zealand competes in the women’s 100-meter backstroke S7 heat 1.

China, top, and Iran compete in the men's group B goalball match Thursday.China, top, and Iran compete in the men’s group B goalball match Thursday.

Cuiping Zhang, left, of China and Natalie Smith, right, of Australia shake hands on the podium after the women's R2 10-meter air rifle standing SH1 final.Cuiping Zhang, left, of China and Natalie Smith, right, of Australia shake hands on the podium after the women’s R2 10-meter air rifle standing SH1 final.

Ben Quilter, in white, of Great Britain competes against Mouloud Noura of Algeria during the men's -60 kilogram judo quarterfinal match.Ben Quilter, in white, of Great Britain competes against Mouloud Noura of Algeria during the men’s -60 kilogram judo quarterfinal match.

Britain's Mel Clarke, center, competes in the women's archery individual compound open ranking round.Britain’s Mel Clarke, center, competes in the women’s archery individual compound open ranking round.

Torchbearers exchange the Paralympic flame outside Westminster Abbey in London on Wednesday, August 29.Torchbearers exchange the Paralympic flame outside Westminster Abbey in London on Wednesday, August 29.

A young boy waits for the arrival of the Paralympic torch in Trafalgar Square ahead of the start of the Games.A young boy waits for the arrival of the Paralympic torch in Trafalgar Square ahead of the start of the Games.

The cauldron is lit as the four Paralympic flames, which were lit on the UK's highest peaks, are united at Stoke Mandeville Hospital during the torch relay on Tuesday, August 28, in Aylesbury, England.The cauldron is lit as the four Paralympic flames, which were lit on the UK’s highest peaks, are united at Stoke Mandeville Hospital during the torch relay on Tuesday, August 28, in Aylesbury, England.

Members of Team GB Paralympic look on as they are welcomed by dancers during a ceremony at the Paralympic Village.Members of Team GB Paralympic look on as they are welcomed by dancers during a ceremony at the Paralympic Village.

Paralympic athletes from Switzerland push their wheelchairs ahead of the London 2012 Paralympic Games.Paralympic athletes from Switzerland push their wheelchairs ahead of the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

Dancers perform during a welcome ceremony at the Paralympic Village.Dancers perform during a welcome ceremony at the Paralympic Village.

A general view shows the Olympic Velodrome.A general view shows the Olympic Velodrome.

Members of Team GB Paralympic are cheered on by dancers.Members of Team GB Paralympic are cheered on by dancers.

Flags fly in the Olympic Park ahead of the London 2012 Paralympic Games.Flags fly in the Olympic Park ahead of the London 2012 Paralympic Games.


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Paralympics 2012: The best photosParalympics 2012: The best photos

Elliot Mujaji was a member of Zimbabwe's national athletics team and qualified to compete at the 1998 Commonwealth Games, when he suffered severe burns in an electrical accident. His right arm was amputated, and he remained in a coma for two months. He came back to athletics, and won the first ever Paralympic gold for his country.Elliot Mujaji was a member of Zimbabwe’s national athletics team and qualified to compete at the 1998 Commonwealth Games, when he suffered severe burns in an electrical accident. His right arm was amputated, and he remained in a coma for two months. He came back to athletics, and won the first ever Paralympic gold for his country.

South Africa's Blade Runner Oscar Pistorius made history at London 2012 by becoming the first double amputee to compete on the track and make an Olympic final. He is the favorite in the Paralympics 100 meters run. South Africa’s “Blade Runner” Oscar Pistorius made history at London 2012 by becoming the first double amputee to compete on the track and make an Olympic final. He is the favorite in the Paralympics 100 meters run.

In 1995, while training to become a professional runner, Henry Wanyoike became almost completely blind after suffering a stroke. He got back to competing, and became one of the fastest men on the planet. He holds two world records in 5,000 meters, 10,000 meters and the record time for marathon.In 1995, while training to become a professional runner, Henry Wanyoike became almost completely blind after suffering a stroke. He got back to competing, and became one of the fastest men on the planet. He holds two world records in 5,000 meters, 10,000 meters and the record time for marathon.

Achmat Hassiem lost his foot to a Great White shark when participating in a lifeguard training session in 2006. After an amazing recovery, he qualified for the 2008 Beijing Paralympics and has been competing ever since. Inset picture: Hassiem shows off a fragment of a shark's tooth that was stuck in his leg after he was attacked.Achmat Hassiem lost his foot to a Great White shark when participating in a lifeguard training session in 2006. After an amazing recovery, he qualified for the 2008 Beijing Paralympics and has been competing ever since. Inset picture: Hassiem shows off a fragment of a shark’s tooth that was stuck in his leg after he was attacked.

South African Natalie Du Toit lost her left leg when she was hit by a car as a young promising swimmer. She kept training and, besides winning five gold medals in Beijing Paralympics, she qualified for Beijing Olympics 10 km swimming race, finishing 16th. She recently announced London will be her last major competition.South African Natalie Du Toit lost her left leg when she was hit by a car as a young promising swimmer. She kept training and, besides winning five gold medals in Beijing Paralympics, she qualified for Beijing Olympics 10 km swimming race, finishing 16th. She recently announced London will be her last major competition.

The star of Egyptian powerlifting, Metwaly Mathana started the sport at the age of 5. According to his bio with the Egyptian Paralympic committee, he had to leave his village as there was not enough steel for him to keep lifting. He won three gold medals in three consecutive Games. The star of Egyptian powerlifting, Metwaly Mathana started the sport at the age of 5. According to his bio with the Egyptian Paralympic committee, he had to leave his village as there was not enough steel for him to keep lifting. He won three gold medals in three consecutive Games.

Tunisia's Somaya Bousaid won two gold medals in Beijing 2008 Games -- and became one of the most successful athletes from her country. She was born blind and competes in the category of visually-impaired athletes. Tunisia’s Somaya Bousaid won two gold medals in Beijing 2008 Games — and became one of the most successful athletes from her country. She was born blind and competes in the category of visually-impaired athletes.

Cyclist Roxy Burns, a South African cerebral palsy sufferer, made her Paralympic debut in Beijing in 2008. As an 18-year-old, she finished sixth in the 500 meters track time trial. Her results have been improving since Beijing and she is one of the favorites for a medal.Cyclist Roxy Burns, a South African cerebral palsy sufferer, made her Paralympic debut in Beijing in 2008. As an 18-year-old, she finished sixth in the 500 meters track time trial. Her results have been improving since Beijing and she is one of the favorites for a medal.

Tesfalem Gebru Kebede won a bronze medal in last year's world championship and is one of Ethiopia's top athletes. He lost his hand when his house was bombed during the Ethio-Eritrea war.Tesfalem Gebru Kebede won a bronze medal in last year’s world championship and is one of Ethiopia’s top athletes. He lost his hand when his house was bombed during the Ethio-Eritrea war.


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Meet the African Paralympic starsMeet the African Paralympic stars

Paralympian Margaret Maughan lights the Paralympic cauldron during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics on Wednesday, August 29.Paralympian Margaret Maughan lights the Paralympic cauldron during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics on Wednesday, August 29.

The Paralympic flag is carried by members of the Great Britain wheelchair basketball team.The Paralympic flag is carried by members of the Great Britain wheelchair basketball team.

The Paralympic flag is raised.The Paralympic flag is raised.

Athletes from Mexico parade in front of a cheering crowd.Athletes from Mexico parade in front of a cheering crowd.

A large-scale reproduction of Marc Quinn's celebrated sculpture Alison Lapper Pregnant is presented.A large-scale reproduction of Marc Quinn’s celebrated sculpture “Alison Lapper Pregnant” is presented.

The Olympic Stadium and Orbit shine brightly during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics on Wednesday, August 29.The Olympic Stadium and Orbit shine brightly during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics on Wednesday, August 29.

Artists brandished silver umbrellas during their performance.Artists brandished silver umbrellas during their performance.

Some performers wore lighted visors.Some performers wore lighted visors.

A giant apple featured prominently.A giant apple featured prominently.

A small plane trails sparks over the Olympic Stadium.A small plane trails sparks over the Olympic Stadium.

Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, watch the ceremony.Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, watch the ceremony.

Artists perform with umbrellas.Artists perform with umbrellas.

Wheelchair rugby player Greg Smith of Australia carries the flag during the ceremony.Wheelchair rugby player Greg Smith of Australia carries the flag during the ceremony.

Artists perform with colorful umbrellas during the opening ceremony.Artists perform with colorful umbrellas during the opening ceremony.

Attendees applaud Queen Elizabeth II and her son Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex.Attendees applaud Queen Elizabeth II and her son Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex.

The opening ceremony featured plenty of fantastic imagery.The opening ceremony featured plenty of fantastic imagery.

A choir performs Principia by British composer Errollyn Wallen.A choir performs “Principia” by British composer Errollyn Wallen.

Service members from the Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force display the Great Britain flag.Service members from the Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force display the Great Britain flag.

The participants sport unique headgear.The participants sport unique headgear.

Miranda performs during the ceremony.Miranda performs during the ceremony.

 Artists also wielded silvery umbrellas for the ceremony. Artists also wielded silvery umbrellas for the ceremony.

The opening ceremony featured plenty of bright lights and beautiful colors.The opening ceremony featured plenty of bright lights and beautiful colors.


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Paralympics Opening CeremonyParalympics Opening Ceremony

Rwanda is a country that is still synonymous with the 1994 genocide that saw the slaughter of close to a million people in eight months during a civil war between the dominant Hutus against the minority Tutsis.

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Today the country is still in the process of rebuilding from that brutal, almost unimaginable horror. But there is one sign of the genocide that cannot be erased so easily. The hundreds of thousands of amputees left maimed, but who survived the violence, who move silently through the crowded markets and streets like apologetic ghosts; unseen and unheard. No one talks of the genocide any more. But the amputees remain a record of the country’s horrific past.

It is a situation that the young men sitting on the floor practicing sitting volleyball are only too aware of.

“I started in 2009 and saw the game and I wasn’t comfortable with it, but after a year I saw it was a good game for people with disabilities,” said 25-year-old university student Emile Vuningoma, who plays as an attacker in the team, as he took a break from training in the dark hall.

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Vuningoma was born with his disability, but his parents didn’t have the money to pay for the medical treatment that might have allowed him to use his leg. Playing for the team has given him a sense of purpose that many disabled people in Rwanda have yet to find.

“To be at London is very important for people with disabilities in Rwanda because we have to be there to present our country to the people with disabilities and those without disabilities,” he said.

“There are some people in Rwanda who have the injuries from the 1994 genocide and do not have the capabilities to be part of society. They think about the past. There are so many with disabilities from the 1994 genocide. We are working hard to go to all the provinces and ask them to come back.”

Laying ghosts to rest

One player who was directly affected by the genocide was the team’s captain Dominique Bizimana, who is also the head of the Rwandan Paralympic Committee.

“There was the genocide and we were young, there was mines and by bad chance I lost my leg when I was 16,” he explained.

Disabled marathon runner Claire Lomas, center, lights the Olympic cauldron for the Paralympic Games in Trafalgar Square on August 24, 2012. The London 2012 Paralympic Games open on August 29 for 12 days.Disabled marathon runner Claire Lomas, center, lights the Olympic cauldron for the Paralympic Games in Trafalgar Square on August 24, 2012. The London 2012 Paralympic Games open on August 29 for 12 days.

Paralympian athlete Angela Hendra prepares to light the cauldron during the London 2012 Paralympic Games lighting ceremony at Stormont Government buildings in Belfast, Northern Ireland on August 25.Paralympian athlete Angela Hendra prepares to light the cauldron during the London 2012 Paralympic Games lighting ceremony at Stormont Government buildings in Belfast, Northern Ireland on August 25.

People watch a fireworks display on August 25 after a Paralympic cauldron was lit outside Northern Ireland's parliament in Belfast, the second of four in Britain's capital cities ahead of the 2012 Games.People watch a fireworks display on August 25 after a Paralympic cauldron was lit outside Northern Ireland’s parliament in Belfast, the second of four in Britain’s capital cities ahead of the 2012 Games.

Marieke Vervoort of Belgium's Paralympic team arrives by Eurostar at St Pancras International station in London on August 26. Marieke Vervoort of Belgium’s Paralympic team arrives by Eurostar at St Pancras International station in London on August 26.

Russian Paralympians arrive at Heathrow's Terminal Four on August 22 in London.
Russian Paralympians arrive at Heathrow’s Terminal Four on August 22 in London.

Performers dance during the New Zealand Flag Raising Ceremony at the Olympic Park on August 27 in London.Performers dance during the New Zealand Flag Raising Ceremony at the Olympic Park on August 27 in London.

Prime Minister David Cameron meets members of the Great Britain Paralympics archery team during a visit to the Olympic village, ahead of the London 2012 Paralympic Games in the Olympic Park, on August 24.Prime Minister David Cameron meets members of the Great Britain Paralympics archery team during a visit to the Olympic village, ahead of the London 2012 Paralympic Games in the Olympic Park, on August 24.


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Paralympian Paul left his Wall Street job to take over Sail to Prevail - an organization which teaches disabled children to sail. From eight children a year, the charity, based in Newport, Rhode Island, now helps around 1,000 youngsters annually.Paralympian Paul left his Wall Street job to take over Sail to Prevail – an organization which teaches disabled children to sail. From eight children a year, the charity, based in Newport, Rhode Island, now helps around 1,000 youngsters annually.

Paul, left, competes in the three-person sailing event at the Sydney Paralympics in 2000. The U.S. failed to win a medal, but gold is on the cards at London 2012 Callahan says.Paul, left, competes in the three-person sailing event at the Sydney Paralympics in 2000. The U.S. failed to win a medal, but gold is on the cards at London 2012 Callahan says.

Paul became a quadriplegic after slipping on a wet floor and breaking his neck as a 21-year-old. He was paralyzed from the chest down, keeping the use of his arms, but not his hands.
Paul became a quadriplegic after slipping on a wet floor and breaking his neck as a 21-year-old. He was paralyzed from the chest down, keeping the use of his arms, but not his hands.


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U.S. Paralympic sailor Paul Callahan eyes goldU.S. Paralympic sailor Paul Callahan eyes gold


Wounded warriors in Paralympics

“I was a volleyball player before I lost my leg. But when I lost my leg I said, ‘No, I cannot give up. I have to fight to play sports.’ And I started to play sitting volleyball in 2004. We are lucky because sports is one of the only ways to integrate people with disabilities (into society). We use sports as one way to do this.”


Paralympian: ‘Rock your disability’

Sport has also offered Bizimana the chance to lay to rest some of his own ghosts. During the genocide he was a 16-year-old conscript in a Tutsi militia. Playing next to him at the London 2012 Paralympic Games is 48-year-old Jean Rukondo, who fought against him in the Hutu-dominated army. Both lost a leg in the fighting but are now on the same team and best of friends.

Training begins. The players move quickly across the floor at breakneck speed, careful to keep part of their backside and thigh on the floor at the same time (the main rule in sitting volleyball). Standing over them is Peter Karreman, the team’s Dutch coach who masterminded Rwanda’s qualification to the world championships last year. They lost every game, some heavily, but the experience ahead of the the Sub-Saharan qualification tournament was invaluable.

“About eight years ago I was training regular volleyball and by coincidence I saw sitting volleyball and it got me, it hit me in my heart. I became the head coach of Dutch team. Then the Rwanda team asked me,” he said outside the hall.

Many challenges

Unlike some disability sports, sitting volleyball is so tough to master, and so fast, that the technique of some of the top players is better than those in the able-bodied game.

“The rules are the same, but the term sitting is not good. They are moving on the ground, moving moving,” explained Karreman. “The rest of the game is the same. But it is fast, the field is smaller. So it’s very attractive. It’s good to play for the regular players because they learn how to play fast as well. It’s good for their technique.”

But preparing the team for the Paralympics has been Karreman’s hardest job yet. The facilities are austere. In the corner stands a heap of twisted wheelchairs. The showers have long run dry. And the floor is so hard that Karreman is surprised the Rwandan team are happy to play on it. “In Europe they would refuse to play on a floor this hard,” he said.


Paralympic torch lit in London


Armless archer aims for gold


Paralympian: ‘Rock your disability’

Real progress needs more funds. “To get them really improved they need money. It is still a problem.”

The difficulties were highlighted a few weeks earlier when it was revealed that the Rwandans were still almost $5,000 short for hosting the qualification tournament and were close to canceling it, and with it the team’s Paralympic dream. Instead the British High Commissioner for Rwanda stepped in and found the cash.

“They have their (the government’s) attention now,” said Karreman before going back to his players for another grueling training session “This will give a boost for the rest for the country that Rwanda is in London with this team.”

‘Disability is nothing’

The tournament went ahead, and Rwanda stole the show. They won every game, conceding just once, beating Kenya in the final 3-0 and qualifying for the Paralympics. They are still a long shot for a medal. As the coach points out , they would have to “train 48 hours a day” to get close.

And other problems have arisen. The Rwandans had to cancel another regional tournament due to a lack of funds, a typical occurrence in African disability sport. Yet Bizimana believes that their appearance in London can send a message to those still struggling to come to terms with how their lives have changed forever in 1994 — a message that resonates far outside this tiny, scarred African state.

“It is very difficult to have confidence, to accept what happened. Some people don’t have. They are still fighting it,” said Bizimana.

“I think we are superstars. For us disability is nothing. We are able. We are making sure we tell people disability is nothing. It is not inability.”






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