February 26th 2018

Sports / In-Depth

As the Rio beckons, spare a thought for those who inspire us from outside the pitch

As Kenyan athletes mark their calendars for the 2016 Summer Olympics, the clock is silently ticking.

By Cynthia Iranducirandu@kenyafreepress.comTuesday, 14 Jun 2016 08:17 EAT

As Kenyan athletes mark their calendars for the 2016 Summer Olympics, the clock is silently ticking. On August 5, Brazil will welcome the world to its magnificent stadia. The Summer Olympics games, celebrated every four years, will be held in 32 venues in Rio de Janeiro. Other towns in Brazil which will co-host the games are Sao Paulo, Brasilia, Salvador, Bela Horizonte and Manaus. Sun, fun, soccer and carnivals are synonymous with the South American country of Brazil. However, there is a stinging terrorist in the air-the Aedes species mosquito.

Flashback to 1947, in the thick forest of Zika, Uganda. The Zika Virus  is discovered for the first time. The first cases to be detected in human beings occur later in 1952. The virus spreads gradually, entering the new millennium with the stinging bite of a mosquito. It has continued to spread from East Africa to South America, where the 2016 Olympics will be held August 5-21. In May 2015, the Pan American Health Organization issued an alert regarding the first confirmed Zika Virus infection in Brazil. Earlier this year, on February 1, the World Health Organization declared Zika a public health emergency of global concern due to the international status of the summer Olympics.

As the disease continues to spark international terror, there is another virus which causes the dreadful AIDS. The HIV virus was first discovered in the early 80’s in the United States of America. Closer home, Asunta Wagura, Executive Director of Kenya Network of Women with Aids, has been living with AIDS for over 25 years. Each year, since 1988, Asunta has battled the disease, turning the six-month life sentence issued by her doctor into 28 years of hope. It is no wonder then that in 2012, during the London Summer Olympics, Asunta was given the honor of being an Olympic torchbearer.

Inspirational torchbearers are nominated based on outstanding social development, innovation and economic development. Not everyone can be a sports champion. Instead, there are non-sports champions who deserve gold medals for their deliberate efforts to fight adversity through the race of life. Asunta was among 8,000 nominees who toured the United Kingdom on a journey of 70 days, visiting over 1000 towns and villages.

Asunta’s work helps change public attitudes towards HIV/AIDS infected persons in Kenya. In 2012, Samsung Electronic East Africa unveiled four Kenyans to represent East Africa in the Olympic torch relay, each with a different goal. There was Ahadi Kenya Anti-Jigger campaign advocate, Ms Cecilia Mwangi, Mr Atul Shah of Nakumatt Holdings, CNN Heroes Award nominee, Mr Evans Wadongo and Asunta Wagura.

As the countdown to Rio continues, many athletes the world over are practicing in their areas of expertise. In Kenya, home of long-distance Olympic champions and the YouTube Javelin legend Julius Yego, every day is a rehearsal towards perfecting their skills in sports. Other champions like Asunta Wagura, in her own words, refuse to look at life as a rehearsal, narrating that:

“I draw my strength from the fact that God created each one of us in his own image. I’m not worth less than anyone. HIV does not mean I’m created in the “image” of a virus…God’s plan for my life wasn’t altered because of this virus. I have courage, because my life is not a rehearsal.”

The writer is a journalism student at the University of Nairobi and intern writer at the Kenya Free Press.

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