Dedan Ireri Maina
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Dedan Ireri Maina: Former street boy dreaming of Paralympics glory with Kenya

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Para cyclist Dedan Ireri Maina sorts his second hand bags for sale outside Jamia Mosque in Nairobi on July 06, 2024.

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

His story could be straight out of a Hollywood script, brimming with twists and turns that defy expectations.

Finding a way into such narratives can be challenging due to their compelling nature, and para-cyclist Dedan Ireri Maina’s journey is no exception.

Eager to know where the latest inclusion to Team Kenya for the Paris Paralympic Games is, he directs me to the main car entrance to Jamia Mosque, on Banda Close in Nairobi’s Central Business District. 

This was after our first meeting at President William Ruto’s flag presentation ceremony for Team Kenya at State House, Nairobi last week. 

“Haujui mimi ni hawker? Nipatie lisali moja alafu uje hapo kwa base yangu Jamia. (You didn’t know I am a hawker? Just give me one hour then come meet me at my base at Jamia,” said the 44-year-old,who took me by surprise.

Though drizzling, myself accompanied with photojournalist, Francis Nderitu, leave Nation Centre followed his directions to a car with bicycles on its rooftop.

Ireri greeted us warmly, dressed in the iconic honeycomb-design Team Kenya tracksuit with pristine white sneakers, sipping tea to ward off the chilly evening.

“Sorry, I have temporary closed owing to the drizzle. I have been selling second hand bags since 2020. Some of them are in these sacks there, “said Ireri. 

“I have two selling points, this one and the other one is near the Kenya National Archives building,” he says.

Ireri shared the challenges faced by hawkers in Nairobi, often evading city authorities. 

“At the end of the day, I have to provide for my family. Children don’t understand hardships,” reflects the father of four, though acknowledging it’s less arduous than his earlier life.

“At the end of the day, you must provide for your family. Children don’t know if you have or you don't. There are those who allow us to hawk, while some are ruthless and at time confiscate our stuff,” said Ireri.

Ireri’s journey to becoming a Paralympic athlete is a remarkable one. Formerly an approved school pupil and street urchin, he transitioned through various jobs — snatcher, office messenger — and now supports his family through hawking. 

Kenya will for the first time have para cyclists at the Paralympic Games with Ireri, who will compete on road (C2) joining fellow veteran Kennedy Ogada, who had earlier qualified on track (Velodrome).

Ireri will ride his Pinarello bicyle worth Sh1.5 million.

Dedan Ireri Maina

Para cyclist Dedan Ireri Maina outside Jamia Mosque, Nairobi where he sells second hand bags.

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

Taking the plane to the 2024 Paris Paralympic Games is a dream delayed for 16 years.

At the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games, his name was called to the start line for the C3 event in the road cycling.

However, Ireri was busy working as an office messenger at Jamii Bora Trust, Nairobi, oblivious of the happenings in the Chinese capital.

It was a huge opportunity missed by the para-cyclist, whose right leg was amputated above the knee at 13, and the country to have a para cyclist at the games for the first time.

Ireri had competed at a World Qualifying Championship in Colombia, but due to lack of communication the chance went up in smoke.

“Our federation then didn’t know much about para cycling and I think that is how I missed out,” said Ireri, who finished ninth in the category where the top 10 made it to the Beijing Paralympics.

In para cycling, the C2 category is for those who have one leg imputed above the knee, while C3 are for those amputated below the knee.

Lady luck smiled on Ireri during this year’s CAC Para-cycling African Championships held on June 26 and 27 in Cairo, Egypt where he claimed four gold medals; two in track (Velodrome) and road racing.

He won the time trial and the competition in the two events, but punched his Paris Paralympics ticket in road acing. 

“I had prepared well for the road racing event, having missed the world event in Belgium in May,” explained Ireri. “Arriving at events early is a good thing since I was able to train for two days in Velodrome and I claimed victory…what else can someone thank God for?”

Ireri ran away from an approved school in Dagoretti in 1991 and made his way to Nairobi to start a new life as a street urchin.

“I used to beg and snatch things from people, but one incident changed my life completely, ” said Ireri, who was knocked down by an Akamba Bus along Moi Avenue while running away. 

“I was 13 then. My right leg had to be amputated above the knee,” said Ireri, who went back to begging in the CBD.“I was able to snatch things from people since I could run when on crutches.

One of Ireri’s friends, who was a street urchin, the late Daniel Omondi, had a bicycle, which fascinated Ireri since he also walked on one leg. “He taught me how to ride during the lessons in Majengo,” said Ireri.

Dedan Ireri Maina

Para cyclist Dedan Ireri Maina sorts his second hand bags for sale outside Jamia Mosque in Nairobi on July 06, 2024. 

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

Ireri, who was paid some money as damages after the accident, used part of it to purchase a bicycle (Black Mamba).

He really wanted to quit begging with age catching up, and luckily enough, while in his begging mission, befriended Ingrid Munro, the wife of Mathare United founder Bob Munro.

Ireri moved to Kayole in 1997 where he married Susan Wangui two years later.

“I continued beg in town, but one day, I approached Ingrid to assist me get employment and she was kind enough,” said Ireri.
Ingrid made Ireri one of the messengers at Jamii Bora Trust in 2002, a move that transformed Ireri completely. 

In 2004, Ireri met para-cyclist Ibrahim Wafula having seen him on television competing in cycling events.

Wafula, who was also disabled on one leg,drew the enthusiastic Ireri to cycling as he encouraged him to join Kayole Exciting Cycling Club.

“Cycling from Kayole to Jamii Bora gave me that training I need and ended up competing in several events locally,” said Ireri.

There was a major breakthrough when Ireri and Wafula were sponsored to the 2007 World Para Cycling Championships in Colombia, a qualifier for the 2008 Beijing Paralympics.

With no funds, it was difficult for the para cyclists to compete outside and it's only in 2019 when he was sponsored for a three-month training in Canada in the countdown to a World Championships.

“I returned to find things had changed at Jamii Bora Trust. It had transformed to a bank, forcing me to seek an alterative with no education background.

“That is when I ventured to hawking up to date as I continued with cycling,” said Ireri, who is grateful to God for his blessings. 

“What pleases me most is that I was able to make up with my parents, who can't believe that I changed,” said Ireri, adding that they now depend on him. “God gave me a second chance from the streets.”

Ireri's first born daughter, Lucy, has completed college and is already married, while his second born, Sospeter Maina, is a first year student at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT).

His third born, Benson Wambugu, is in Form Three at Murera Secondary School in Juja, while his last born,Janet Waithera, is in PP2.