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African Table Tennis Player Sets Sights on Paralympics

George Wyndham practices table tennis at the National Stadium in Freetown, Sierra Leone, March 12, 2016. (N. deVries/ VOA news)

George Wyndham of Sierra Leone is a force to be reckoned with. He’s been playing table tennis for 14 years, despite being paralyzed by polio as a child. Now, at age 26, he is among the best physically challenged players in Africa.

"Whenever I play table tennis, it always makes me happy and forget about my disability," Wyndham said.

Having polio has pushed him even harder to make something of his life, he says, especially in a country where there is not much support for disabled people.

Having an outlet like table tennis is a way to give other people confidence, he adds.

"I feel good, because for [the] past 14 years I was alone, the only disabled [person] playing table tennis,” Wyndham said. “But for [the] past 4 to 5 months now, I have something like 4 or 5 other disabled that are training for table tennis. It's a big boost for me and I'm very proud of that. "

Wyndham's coach, Ibrahim Kamara, agrees. He is with the Sierra Leone Table Tennis Association, and says they are looking at ways to engage more youths — including those with disabilities — in table tennis.

And Wyndham, he adds, is a natural when it comes to inspiration.

"George has a natural talent, and is unique on his speed and control, which is very difficult for someone in a wheelchair,” Kamara said. “Speed and control is mostly for standing players, but having speed and control in a wheelchair, that is natural talent."

Challenges persist

Wyndham, however, still has many challenges — such as raising money for training.

Help has come from local sports committees, and some local fundraising has been done, but more is needed.

“Presently, I'm straining,” Wyndham said. “I'm now preparing for [the] Paralympic Games in Brazil. By now I should've been in a training camp because other athletes from other countries are now training. But I'm still here in my country. I need to go out to prepare very well, but there's no sponsor."

According to his coach, an additional $5,000 is needed just for training opportunities to gear up for the big event in Brazil.

For now, Wyndham says, he will keep doing what he can to get by — and hopefully represent his country later this year, as well as continuing to inspire others.