Husnah Kukundakwe of Uganda, the youngest athlete at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, may have finished her Paralympic campaign, but believes that the legacy of her participant will carry on with an impact through Uganda, and even across Africa.
After her women's 100m breaststroke SB8 heat at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre on Thursday 26 August, Kukundakwe spoke of her hope that people across Africa will be watching and that seeing her swim might change perceptions.
“Uganda has access to watch the Paralympics on TV and Africa in general is a land where people with disabilities are outcasts to society. Most parents (in Uganda) who give birth to children with disabilities just abandon them, sometimes they end up on the streets, they become beggars.
“Maybe if they (parents) watch the Paralympics, when they are watching they will realise that the choice they made is really bad and they should have supported their children to achieve their dreams,” said Kukundakwe, who was born in Kampala with a limb deficiency.
For Tokyo 2020, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) has provided free-to-air (FTA) coverage of the Games across Sub-Saharan Africa as part of its efforts to raise awareness of Para sport in the region. With this, more people than ever in Uganda will be watching the Games and the inspiring stories of its athletes, including Kukundakwe.
Ⓒ James Varghese for IPC
Despite her time in Tokyo nearing an end, Kukundakwe finished with positivity and one eye on the future. She has spoken previously of the confidence swimming has given her, but competing in the Paralympic Games has her confidence reaching new heights.
“I feel like up (reaching above her head for emphasis), I feel like I could touch the clouds. I’m the youngest here and just seeing how the others are doing, and just swimming with them is such an amazing experience.
“I’m really, really happy and excited to officially get the title of a Paralympian. People would call me a Paralympian but I wouldn’t feel as fulfilled as I am now as I’m actually a Paralympian. I feel more real. This moment is real.”
But at only 14 years old, her career has so much further it can progress.
“This is the start of my journey and I’m just really excited to see how far I’ll go. Maybe I’ll come back to watch the finals and see how these guys (other Para swimmers) get medals. Just seeing these guys with more experience than I have, it will give me a vision of what I want to be when I’m older.”
Asked if we will see her in Paris it was a definite ‘yes’. “I can’t wait to be in Paris. Paris is like a huge city. I kind of like French as a subject and maybe by then I will know fluent French.”
But for right now, Kukundakwe has more immediate priorities. “I want a coke, because I haven’t had soda in like a year. And also bread.”