Ex-Kenyan Paralympian among UK’s 100 influential people with disabilities

Kenyan-born British Paralympian Anne Olympia Wafula.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Wafula was born in 1969 in Western Kenya as normal as any child would be.
  • However, disaster struck when she was two and a half when she got infected with polio, an infection which left her half paralysed from the waist down.

Kenyan-born former Paralympian with British Athletics, Anne Olympia Wafula, has added another feather to her already heavily garlanded cap - being named among the 100 most influential disabled people in the United Kingdom.

The announcement by the group Power 100 means Anne is one of the people her compatriots in her adopted country look to for inspiration and guidance.

“Anne Wafula MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) challenges misconceptions about disability. Athlete, author, disability and inclusion champion, and sporting ambassador; Anne inspires achievement and excellence through motivational talks that encourage others to overcome difficulties and maximise their potential,” the citation from Power 100 reads.

The Shaw Trust Power 100, is an annual publication containing the 100 most influential disabled people in the UK. Its website says that “It is unique in the UK and since being introduced five years ago, has become well known in the disability publication landscape.

The title provides biographies of the top 100 influencers with disabilities in the UK and also an interview with the person taking pride of place in the number one spot. The Shaw Trust Power 100 list aims to further inclusivity by celebrating the achievement of selected to be included.”

Nikki Fox, the BBC Disability Correspondent, was announced as the 2020’s most influential disabled person in Britain. Nikki is known to millions for her work and was the unanimous choice of the independent judging panel for her outstanding work keeping disability on the news agenda throughout the pandemic.

Kenyan-born British Paralympian Anne Olympia Wafula.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Speaking about her achievement, Nikki commented: “I am just overwhelmed to have topped the Shaw Trust Power List. Just to be nominated is an honour in itself but to come first is something I am still trying to get my head around, especially as last year’s winner is one of my absolute heroes, Baroness Jane Campbell.”

Stronger together

For her part, Anne said: It’s humbling to be on the Shaw Trust Disability Power 100 List 2020, in the politics and law category. There are so many disabled people doing amazing things and I thank them all. We are stronger together. I find it difficult to sit and see unfairness and exclusion go on. So, the small role I play in presenting disability issues in a way that could dispel negative stereotypes and promote the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities is crucial.”

This latest recognition is one of the many that Anne has chalked up in her storied life. In 2004, Anne became the first wheelchair racer from Sub-Saharan Africa to compete at the Paralympics. She uses her life meaningfully, with a purpose to inspire people facing challenges to tap into the latent power that lies within them.

Anne is a disability rights and inclusion campaigner and she has lobbied organisations and government to ensure access and inclusion is on the agenda. Anne is a Board member of UK Athletics, British Paralympics Assassination, Active Essex and Sports Chaplaincy UK.

Ann Wafula (second from right, seated) and join hands with children from Soweto East Kibra disable group after donating seven wheelchairs through her Olympia-Ann Wafula Foundation on November 16, 2019 at Soweto Resource Centre in Nairobi. With her is James Kennedy (second left, standing), owner of Rugby United New York.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

She founded Olympia-Wafula Foundation to promote healthy living solutions for people with disabilities emphasising education, mobility and advocacy to empower and enrich their lives through social inclusion.

She also supports various charities in the capacity of ambassador, champion and patron.

Awarded by the Queen

She is the author of the award winning autobiography In My Dreams I Dance (published by Harper Collins). The book is set for an update due to public demand for the incredible story.

In 2014, Anne was awarded an MBE by The Queen for her services to charity and disability sport. In 2018, she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate (Doctor of Health Sciences) by York St John University.  Last year, Anne was recognised by the iNews as one of the 100 leading Black women in the world.

Last year, she visited the land of her birth and in an interview with this newspaper she described herself as a woman on a mission – and that she saw her task of reaching out to the disabled as a very urgent one that needed immediate solutions.

"When we talk about desperate situations imagine a scenario where city government askaris descend on a disabled hawker not only destroying her wares but damaging her wheelchair in the process.

 Unfortunately this is the situation many find themselves in,” she said.

Wafula was born in 1969 in Western Kenya as normal as any child would be.

However, disaster struck when she was two and a half when she got infected with polio, an infection which left her half paralysed from the waist down.

This never damped her spirit and Wafula went on to scale education heights ending up in Moi University where she took a Bachelor of Education degree. On graduation, she was posted to Machakos Technical Institute, now Machakos University College. She later moved to the United Kingdom with her husband.

Wrote a book

The sporting gene seems to run in Anne’s family because her son, Tim Walindi Strike, is a formidable footballer who is attracting the attention of junior sides of major European clubs.

Her book that was published in 2010 turned out to be major motivator for may readers around the globe, attracting rave reviews from readers and journalists alike.

Commenting on the book in February 2015, a reader by the name Jacky said: “It was a quick, easy and good read. Although only having spent a fraction of time in a wheelchair/walking on crutches, I can't imagine how it feels to not being able to move both your legs at all.

The writer went through a lot and stayed positive trying to find the good in all that crossed her path. I saw her race in the Athens Paralympics and also the girl she mentioned with no hands that performed the dressage. I found a picture of her I posted during the Paralympics as I had nothing but respect for all the athletes competing.

It should get more airtime as they train as hard as all the able bodied athletes do...
So I particularly liked reading about her Paralympics experience!”

During her last year’s visit to Kenya, Anne said she founded Olympia-Wafula Foundation with a strong vision to promote healthy living solutions for differently able (people living with disability) and those disadvantaged with special emphasis on education, mobility and advocacy to empower and enrich their lives through social inclusion.

The work is spread in Kenya, Malawi, Swaziland, Nepal, Haiti and the UK. It was through the foundation that she donated seven wheelchairs to a group of disabled people living in Nairobi’s Kibera slums.

She also supports various charities in the capacity of ambassador, champion and patron.

On her listing, Anne says that inclusion is not tolerance but unquestioned acceptance.   

“Equality is oppression to some people but it's liberation to us. When you go further up the pyramid, there is hardly disabled, black leaders in senior management positions. We must interrupt positively to change this,” she says adding, “Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one's definition of your life; define yourself.”

josephmboyaa@gmail.com

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