Glasgow 2014: Remarkable names to inspire and follow at the Games


Some of those competing in Glasgow will be trying to forget about the past. Some will want to defy the odds. Some will just want to make their nation proud.

Not everyone in this list will be competing to win, but everyone has a champion story to tell; be it about war, poverty and oppression, or gung-ho tales of heroic acts.

Here are some Commonwealth contenders who will inspire and impress, perhaps even bring a tear to your eye.

Adrien Niyonshuti: "These people came to my home and my school and killed my family"

Country: Rwanda Sport: Road cycling

Competition dates: 31 July & 3 August

Competition venue: Glasgow City

Adrien Niyonshuti rides to forget. Cycling helps block out the trauma of losing six brothers and a total of 60 family members in a genocide that killed an estimated 800,000 people in 100 days.

Niyonshuti was seven-years-old in 1994 and did as his mum and dad told him because nowhere in Rwanda was safe.

He survived, somehow, and now, 20 years on, he is regarded by his compatriots as the man who is helping change perceptions of his country.

Although neither he nor his cycling team-mates will step onto any podiums in Glasgow, they will still be feted as heroes back home.

Their story, of a group of genocide survivors mentored by a former Tour de France rider from the United States, has already been made into a documentary 'Rising from the Ashes'.  

For a man who learned to ride on a wooden bike with wooden wheels, Niyonshuti's list of achievements are remarkable.

He took part in the road race at the last Commonwealths and was the first Rwandan cyclist to compete at an Olympics, battling it out in the mountain biking event at London 2012, the first black African to do so.

"It's the thing that helps me forget my problems," he says.  "I lost my family, my brothers, my grandmother. I have to survive this life I've been given. You never forget, you just have to be positive."

Abdul Rashid Bangura: "This is my calling, to become a world champion"

Country: Sierra Leone Sport: Boxing (Men's 75kg)

Competition dates: 26 July-2 August

Competition venue: Scottish Exhibition & Conference Centre Precinct

Abdul Rashid Bangura knows about the brutality of war. He can tell you about poverty, about struggle, about life and death.

The weighty jabs and powerful uppercuts he will attempt to absorb and evade will feel feather-light compared with the pain and grief the middleweight boxer has experienced in his 27 years.

When rebel forces from the Revolutionary United Front took over his hometown of Makeni, the then teenager felt he had little option but to leave his family and flee.

Yet a longing for home, a longing for his father, convinced him to abandon his search for diamonds in the shallow creeks and rivers of northern Sierra Leone and began the long journey home.

"I walked with bare feet for two whole days," he recalls. "The sand burned my feet, we slept under no shelter, just so I could get back to my father."

Any journey in a country locked in a decade-long conflict, a bloody war that would claim at least 70,000 lives, is a perilous one and far from easy.

During his long and arduous trek, Bangura was captured by rebel soldiers and put to work crushing rice.

Somehow his father, Sierra Leone's boxing coach for many years, negotiated his son's release and now Bangura, his nickname "Born Champion" tattooed on his forearm, can dream of Commonwealth gold.

He can barely afford to eat after training and shares second-hand equipment with other fighters. "We do it the hard way," he says. "In Sierra Leone, it is not easy to become a good boxer."

Now working for the police, protecting the country's president and other important officials, Bangura's daily routine usually involves a four-hour training session before work begins at 9am.

But driving him on is the memory of his father, who raised his son alone after Bangura's mother left when he was one.

He died earlier this year and Bangura said: "The only time my father was happy was when I was boxing.

"Even now, I am not boxing to please other people - I am only boxing to please my father even though he is no longer alive."

Sophie Pascoe: "I am living the best life... I feel very, very lucky"

Country: New Zealand Sport: Swimming

Competition dates: 24-29 July

Competition venue: Tollcross National Swimming Centre

Garry Pascoe describes the day he reversed over his two-year-old daughter while cutting the lawn on a ride-on mower.

It is a moment that will forever leave a "black dot"  on his life.

"It absolutely haunts me," he says of the incident back in 1995, a traumatic experience the family chose to keep private until the daughter, Sophie, wrote about it in her autobiography last year.

While the father's pain remains, his uninhibited "gutsy little lady" has gone on to become a champion swimmer, a six-time Paralympic gold medallist and a household name in her native New Zealand.

There have been numerous awards and world records for the 21-year-old, whose left leg was amputated below the knee following the accident.

She is expected to add to her medal haul in Glasgow when she competes in the para-swimming events.

"I never think what if," she says. "There's no point in looking back."

A passion for fashion as well as swimming, Sophie recently signed a four-year sponsorship deal with a jewellery company.

"I am living the best life," she adds. "I feel very, very lucky."

Make a Comment
Make a Comment