Paralympic swimmer Nakazibwe defies odds

Nakazibwe celebrates in the pool after winning a race

On November 17, 2019, Condoleezza Nakazibwe Thembo, 10, left home with her brother, for their routine swimming lessons. Healthy, lively and bubbly, Nakazibwe, loved swimming from the age of three. She loved doing what her elder brother did quite well at Seals Swimming Club.

That, in many ways, made her the joy in the home of former government minister, Nyombi Thembo, her father. Yet, that was nearly dashed. While being driven on the Entebbe Expressway, Nakazibwe was involved in a near-fatal accident. Nakazibwe’s left arm was shattered.

Medics from Seguku Doctors hospital sprang into action, to save Nakazibwe’s life, which they duly did. But her arm, right above the elbow, was amputated. That seemed to mark the end of her swimming dream, that was just getting started, but above all, a beautiful young girl’s life had been turned upside down, as she remained with only one arm.

The Fight Back

However, Nakazibwe, despite all the challenges that she has had to contend with in her short time on earth, she has not given up. And against all odds, she is fighting back to restore her dignity, and get her life back.

Her mother Angella Naggayi Thembo said: “Our daughter was now different. Inevitably, there was a sense of self-pity. Our thoughts were moving all over the place, as we wondered whether our daughter would ever be the pilot we dreamed of her to be. Would she do the catwalk at a beauty pageant like we usually envisaged, before the accident?”

Indeed, with all these questions ringing in Nakazibwe’s parents’ heads, it was tough for them to take. The worry was also about how people would view her: the stigma and the discrimination that people living with disabilities encounter can kill esteem.

But the former Information and Communications Technology minister Thembo was not ready to resign. The fighter in him, had to gather all the emotional might in him to fight for his daughter. Going through the internet, Thembo realized that there had been swimmers using one hand.

Half a year later, Nakazibwe had recovered from surgery, and returned to the swimming pool. She got back on the grind, to restore her swimming career. Incidentally, she turned down suggestions to get her an artificial arm. Her can-do attitude overrode all her parents’ interventions, to protect her from scrutiny. She wanted to just get on with it.

Inspired by Kukundakwe

As Nakazibwe returned to the pool late in 2020, she met another paralympian swimmer, Husnah Kukundakwe, 15. Kukundakwe, who largely uses one arm to swim, won a bronze medal at the Para Swimming World Series in Lignano Sabbiadoro, Italy in 2019.

Condoleezza Nakazibwe (centre) displays her medal at a recent national swimming event in Kampala

Kukundakwe was Uganda’s first podium finisher in an international swimming meet. That meeting, Nakazibwe says, was one that restored her belief that she can be an achiever on the world stage as Kukundakwe. But also, the confidence with which Kukundakwe carries herself, gave her renewed self-esteem. Nakazibwe said: “I believe I will bring gold in swimming one day.”

Dream of medals

Right now, Nakazibwe is coached by the same coach who trains Kukundakwe, Muzafaru Muwanguzi. And because of him, Kukundakwe has been able to represent Uganda is several para-swimming events with aplomb. In August, she was at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, before flying to Konya in Turkey, to compete in the fifth edition of the Islamic Solidarity Games.

While there, Kukundakwe emerged as the most decorated Ugandan athlete with two golds, three silvers and one bronze of the 10 that Uganda won. Nakazibwe appears destined for great things.

Yet, she said: “I am not getting carried away. I need to first test myself at FINA Games, and make sure I make the grade.”

But her first target is to better her domestic rivals, Nelly Lutalo from Seals Swimming Club and Shadir Musenze from North Green. It is at Seals Swimming Club that Nakazibwe’s journey began. But she has since joined Gators swimming club, much to the disappointment of her former team. They miss Nakazibwe’s warm demeanour. And inevitably, the fact that she was markedly a good swimmer from her early days.

Recently, she won a gold medal in freestyle, and two silvers in breaststroke and backstroke during the Midland swimming competition. It is a long walk to stardom. But so has been Nakazibwe’s fight-back. She noted that she had been advised to wear long-sleeved shirts. This was largely intended to protect her from the prying eyes, because of her disability. Yet, whenever she removed the shirt, all eyes were on her. But her response was firm: she did not care about public opinion. Her focus is on winning big in swimming.

Source: The Observer

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