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Street Beggar By Day, Para-Athlete By Night: Gambia’s 1st Female Paralympian Battles to Survive

Isatou Nyang on court

In an open court in the middle of Serekunda’s bustling area, Isatou Nyang, 34, dribbles past her team mates as they warm up on court. This is the court where her career as para-athlete began. A versatile athlete, she plays basketball, power lifting and track and field.

At the 2012 London Paralympic Games, she made headlines for competing in the 100 and 800-meter races for The Gambia. Her story as the Gambia’s first female paralympian was widely covered and she was hailed as a hero. To many, the London Games would propel Isatou to stardom and offer her a lucrative career.

Seven years later, Isatou, the winner of the 2011 Gambian Paralympian of the year award and the 2012 Special Jury Prize at the African Women Sports Reporters Awards has become all but a star with a lucrative career. The support she expected to receive from her country for her heroism never came, the hype she enjoyed in 2012 quickly disappeared and public interest towards her vanished.

 

Isatou begging to survive

Now she’s left with no choice but to struggle to fend for herself, her three kids and her mother. Every morning Monday to Saturday, she goes on the streets to beg for food and money, her hands often covered in grey dust from accelerating the wheels of her push chair.

‘’For the fact that I have three kids to feed, I need money and I’m not getting money from the sport. So I have to beg. I got divorced in 2011 and I’ve been taking care of the kids by myself and they are all going to school. I have to beg.”

“Sometimes I make up to D300 from begging and sometimes less than that. The only time I get money from Paralympic is when I travel and that’s not frequent. I earned £200 (about D13,000) at the 2012 London Paralympic Games. That was the highest I ever received. Other than that, I receive between D2000 and D3000 when I travel around the sub-region to compete.”

Despite Isatou’s hardship, she’s still passionate about sports and she’s hopeful her situation will change, “I know one day, this will end. The board of the Gambia National Paralympics Committee should know that we have taken sports as a career to better our lives, not just for fun,” she says.

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