Uganda’s Husnah Kukundakwe is literally living her teenage dream. The 14-year-old Para swimmer is the youngest athlete at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games and just four days away from her Paralympic debut.
She spent part of her Sunday asking questions from international media in a press conference surrounded by Paralympic stars such as Italian wheelchair fencer Beatrice Vio and Germany’s long jumper Markus Rehm.
“I feel like I’m meeting movie stars,” she said.
Kukundakwe is only the second Para swimmer from her country to compete in the Games and the first in 21 years.
She landed in Japan on Friday (20 August) and shared his first impressions about the experience in the Paralympic Village.
“Since it’s the Paralympics and everybody else has a disability, I felt really comfortable with myself," she explained.
“In Uganda there are very few people who have disabilities who want to come out and be themselves, so around the athletes here I’ve felt very comfortable. I haven’t started to make friends yet, but when I’m around the cafeteria I say 'hi' to people and hang around and have fun.”
Para swimming became part of her life not with the plan to be in the Paralympic Games but to be more comfortable about herself.
“I really did become more confident. Before I started sport I would always wear a sweater or a long-sleeve shirt to hide my hand and arm, or put my hand in my pocket so no one could see my fingers.
“But in swimming you only wear a swimsuit, so I got used to that, and I started realising that I don’t care what other people see or what other people think about who I am because of what I look like. I kind of grew into being myself.”
From Kampala to Tokyo
And Kukundakwe never stopped from there on. She made her international debut at the World Series in Singapore 2019.
Just a few months later, she was representing Uganda at the London 2019 World Para Swimming Allianz Championships supported by the IPC’s NPC Development Programme, powered by Toyota.
“After the [World] Championships in 2019, when I got back to school people who I didn’t even know about kept saying ‘hi’ to me and it was like, ‘where did we meet?’ But when they said they saw me on TV it was like, ‘ah, OK, cool'.
“Seeing how people are inspired by me makes me want to inspire so many more people around the world.”
But it is not only the Paralympic Games that has made Kukundakwe popular at her school in Kampala. There is more about Japan for her friends to be excited about.
“They are indeed jealous, because most of my friends like anime, so going to the city where anime is made is kind of a top dream for them. But being here is also a top dream for me, because I’m going to compete in the Paralympics.”
Husnah Kukundakwe will make her Paralympic debut on Thursday (26 August) in the women’s 100m backstroke SB8 heats at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.
Complete schedule and results from Para swimming at Tokyo 2020 can be found on Paralympic.org.