by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
However, for some just being able to compete in a tournament that involves the best in the world is success; whatever the outcome they live for ever with the accolade of “Paralympian”.
One such athlete is Sierra Leone’s George Wyndham.
He competed in Men’s Singles Class 4 experiencing defeats at the hands of China’s Zhang Yan (11-2, 11-6, 9-11, 11-5) and Thailand’s Wanchai Chaiwut (11-2, 11-9, 11-9).
The results do not suggest a successful venture but now let’s consider from a different angle; George Wyndham, 26 years old, is the only athlete on duty for Sierra Leone in Rio de Janeiro.
In fact he is only the third ever and the first table tennis player. The previous representatives were both track and field athletes; Kelley Marah competed in Atlanta in 1996, Mohamed Kamara four years ago in London.
“Now I am in Brazil living the life,” said George Wydham. “However, when I go home to my country, I am a sufferer, with all that I am doing, with all my achievements; you couldn’t believe I am staying in one of the offices in the stadium.”
He experienced defeats in Rio de Janeiro but that is not a major matter of concern for George Wyndham, he is looking to much wider horizons; he is looking beyond the boundaries of table tennis.
“I really want to be the man who can change sport in my country,” he stressed. “My dream is to see a delegation of 30 or 40 athletes going to a Games from Sierra Leone; I want more facilities and more equipment to incorporate other people with impairments in Sierra Leone.”
Visit from coach
After contracting polio when 11 years old, at first he tried athletics but then developed an interest for table tennis; finance was a problem, he could not afford a wheelchair.
However, a visit from a local coach, a meeting arranged with his mother; agreed by all table tennis was the choice.
“I became so interested in the game that I started to skip school to come and train”, admitted George Wyndham.
Medals in Africa
Table Tennis top of the list, in both 2013 and 2015 he won bronze in Men’s Singles Class 4 at the African Para Championships but owing the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone he was not able to accept the invitation to travel to Beijing for the 2014 World Para Championships.
Somewhat similarly, visa problems prevented him competing in the 2015 Lignano Masters in Italy.
“I came back home and said “wow, this is very challenging”, the World Championships had gone, so had the Lignano Masters”, reflected George Wyndham. “I think my absence at the World Championships motivated me, so I tried harder because I knew one day I would go to a World Championships or Paralympics.”
He believed he had the potential.
“I think 99 per cent of people with impairments in Sierra Leone depend on street begging,” explained George Wyndham. “So if they take time from training, then they lose the money that they could earn from begging.”
It is sad state of affairs but George Wyndham is undaunted.
“I’m really trying to make a difference in Sierra Leone,” he concluded. “I’m really trying to open the minds of the government and those thinking disabled people can do nothing.”
Opening minds; that is the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, a message for Sierra Leone, a message for all.