The 32-year-old from Ghana sees the quadrennial event as a rare opportunity to change perceptions of people with disabilities, particularly in his homeland.
“I want to raise the flag of my country but also represent people with disabilities in Africa,” Alem told the Paralympic News Service. “We are being called parasites, beggars and a curse on our society which I totally disagree with.
“We just want the chance to rise to the pinnacle of life. We can do more than they think we can, but we just need the opportunities that so many people take for granted but are lacking for us.”
Alem lost the use of his right leg to polio at the age of two and for the next eight years he was forced to crawl around his village in the north of Ghana.
“We lived in a remote area and there was no access to any medical facilities,” said Alem, who also represented Ghana at football and helped the national amputee team win the African Cup of Nations in 2007.
“I learned to walk using a stick from a Neem tree which is found in that part of northern Ghana. Every three months I had to cut down another stick because they wore down so quickly.
“I didn’t know what crutches were until 2007 when I went to play the Cup of Nations in Sierra Leone and I was banned from using the wooden stick as it was dangerous if it broke.”
Alem was Ghana’s flag-bearer at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. But his participation at the event was curtailed by a bout of chicken pox.
He only made it to Rio after receiving crowd funding donations and financial aid from several international organizations. But he says African para athletes do not enjoy the same level of support as their peers from other countries.
“I do not have a mechanic so I have got to go cap in hand and approach people who are friendly to me to help,” he said.
“The US team have fixed my bike as I left a part behind when I was training in the US before coming here and another team has given me aero wheels to use for the competition.”
Alem finished 10th, out of 10, in Friday’s C2 3000m individual pursuit and will compete in the road time trial on Wednesday.
“I did my best,” Alem said of his performance at Rio’s velodrome. “It is a long race. Hopefully the time trial will go better.
“But being in Rio is just an amazing achievement and to be among the over 4,000 athletes taking part. To walk around the Olympic Stadium for the opening ceremony with millions watching around the world, flying your country’s colour, was a fantastic experience.
“I am representing people with disabilities to show we do have a future.” Enditem
Source: Xinhua/News Ghana