Ghana's Amos Ahiagah busy running, cutting hair and making brother's dreams come true

The 19-year-old balances a life of training and working in a barbershop in the hopes of making his siblings and country proud 16 Mar 2023
Five African athletes train, doing upward kicks, on an indoor track.
Amos Ahiagah is training five days a week to become the first Paralympic medallist from Ghana.
ⒸAmos Gumulira
By Lena Smirnova | The IPC

Amos Ahiagah is known in his neighbourhood as a barber. But he dreams of being known as something more: a world-class sprinter and Paralympic champion.

The 19-year-old can be seen running at a stadium in Accra, Ghana in the early mornings before he collects his things and goes to work at a barbershop. The money he earns helps to support his family, including his brother’s dream of becoming a professional football player. 

Ahiagah also has a big dream of his own – to win the first Paralympic medal for Ghana – and he is overcoming every challenge to achieve this.

“In my country, when you go to training, someone will see you and the person will discourage you,” Ahiagah said. “Even in the training you’re doing in Ghana, they just discourage you, but for me, no one can discourage me. I know what is in me so I will never stop.”

The first laps

An accident at the age of six led to the amputation of Ahiagah’s right arm below the shoulder. He adapted to the new reality quickly and started running alongside other students while at school. 

Now 19 years old, Ahiagah started running as a child in school. @Amos Ahiagah

“I ran with the able people during school time. As I went running, a coach saw me and said to me that he’d like to take me in and train me,” Ahiagah said.

“In my country you don’t have so many disabled athletes so normally I train with the abled people. I always run with them. I do everything with them,” he added. “During my school time, I always ran with the abled people, so I’m not afraid of them and that is why the coach saw something in me. He knew that one day I will go somewhere. It’s just a matter of time and you just need someone to assist you.”

After the coach spotted him, Ahiagah started training with more focus. He now specialises in the 100m, 200m and 400m distances. 

Power and speed are what he likes the most about sprints – especially when his improved physical strength helps him to pass his friends on the track. 

Ahiagah trains every day of the week and competes on the weekends. @Amos Gumulira

“I really enjoy running because I like challenges. I like to challenge my friends who are able people. I want to show them that whatever they can do, I can also do it, and better,” Ahiagah said, adding that people often tell him that he cannot do something, which makes him determined to prove them wrong.

As he picked up new skills on the track, Ahiagah also got more interested in the Paralympic Movement and the opportunities it could offer him. Since information about the Paralympics is not easy to get in Ghana, he relied on Internet sources to find out more about the history and values of the Games.

“I sometimes learn from online. I Google and learn what ‘Paralympic’ is,” Ahiagah said. “Many people don’t know about Paralympics in my country. When you say ‘Paralympics’, some people do not understand what Paralympics means because they don’t have any idea about it, so I try to teach my friends about the Paralympics.”

Since discovering Para athletics, Ahiagah has been eager to learn as much as he can about his sport and the Paralympic Movement. @Amos Gumulira

Thanks to his online research, Ahiagah can easily name the year and location of the first Paralympic Games along with other details about the Movement. 

And now he also wants to be a part of that history himself.

“My dream is to win a gold medal for my country because I noticed that no one has won the gold medal for the country before, so I just want to be the one,” Ahiagah said. “If I did that, I would be proud."

A brother's dream

Trying to become the first Paralympic champion from Ghana is a great undertaking in itself, but Ahiagah has yet another goal he is trying to achieve – to help his younger brother become a professional footballer.

Ahiagah's brother is 15 years old, while his sister is 27 years old. Since their parents are mostly absent from their lives, the three siblings live together and rely on each other for support.

Ahiagah has raced at several regional competitions and national sports festivals. @Amos Ahiagah

The youngest brother is playing football at school and dreams of playing internationally.

“I pray to God that God will help me so that I can also help him to achieve his goal,” Ahiagah said. “I always tell him that he shouldn’t stop even though there is no money in the family, but he should not stop. God is there to support us so we should give thanks to God. While there’s life, there’s hope so I always tell him that there’s more coming.” 

Trimming for cash

Since graduating from school last year, Ahiagah trains every weekday and competes on the weekends. As he cannot yet make sports his full-time job, he also works as a barber to support himself and his family.

“Sometimes I’ll go to training early in the morning. By nine o’clock I’ll be done with the training, so I’ll come and work the rest of the day because my younger brother is still in school, so I have to support him,” Ahiagah said.

Doing side jobs since he was 12, Ahiagah taught himself how to cut hair and now works at a barbershop. @Amos Ahiagah

The Para athlete has done side jobs like this since he was 12 years old.

He taught himself how to cut hair – sometimes using his brother as a test model - and started doing haircuts for small fees while at a boarding school. Now that he has finished school, Ahiagah has some regular clients at the barbershop.

“I’m 19, but even during my school time, I worked to support myself. I know how to barber so sometimes when someone is on vacation I’ll come and barber,” Ahiagah said. “There’s no one to help out so you have to start helping yourself, but I know one day that all will be OK.”

Determination and faith

While Ahiagah faces many challenges on his sports journey, his faith remains unwavering that he will succeed in making history for Ghana.

The West Africa country has participated in every Paralympic Summer Games since 2004, sending three athletes to the latest edition at Tokyo 2020, but has yet to win a Paralympic medal.

“I believe in myself that I can do it,” Ahiagah said. “I have to be determined in my life. If I want to become like Usain Bolt, I have to work hard so that I can achieve my goal because Usain Bolt did not just rise up. He trained hard before he became Usain Bolt, so that means I have to train hard. I have to schedule time for myself.”

Ahiagah dreams of jumping to the top of the podium at a Paralympic Games. @Amos Ahiagah

Ahiagah has already competed at several regional competitions and national sports festivals.

While he is yet to compete internationally, he is poised to do so when Accra hosts the African Para Games in September 2023. And one thing Ahiagah can certainly count on there is his family’s support.

“They are praying for me that I will go far,” the athlete said.