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Sierra Leone Athletes Try to Regain Stride After Halting for Ebola

Florence Amara in action on the volleyball court, Freetown, Sierra Leone, July 22, 2015. (N. deVries/VOA News)

The Ebola crisis brought everything to a grinding halt in Sierra Leone last year when it was at its peak. This included sports. Public gatherings were banned, and that meant teams couldn’t practice properly. Many athletes were also denied visas to compete abroad.

Marathon runner Idrissa Kargbo is worried about his future career partly because of the Ebola crisis.

He holds the national marathon record in Sierra Leone at two hours, 32 minutes, and has run in the London and New York City Marathons over the past two years.

Idrissa Kargbo gets ready to run at the National Stadium, Freetown, Sierra Leone, Oct. 21, 2013 (N.deVries for VOA).
Idrissa Kargbo gets ready to run at the National Stadium, Freetown, Sierra Leone, Oct. 21, 2013 (N.deVries for VOA).

Now, he has a chance to go to Cape Town, South Africa, to compete in a marathon in September. But he’s concerned he will be denied a visa.

“I am worried a little bit because I don’t know what’s going to come, since I’m in an [Ebola-]affected country,” he said.

Other athletes have been denied visas due to the Ebola situation, according to Mohamed Vangahun, technical director of the Sierra Leone volleyball team.

His team lost its chance to compete in the Youth Olympic Games last year in China.

“We were hoping to represent Africa in that championship, unfortunately we were denied visas by the Chinese embassy and could not take part, of course it was not good for our players. Imagine they have trained over two months for that competition,” said Vangahun.

But the players are not letting that get them down too much.

“We are still determined, we have the spirit, we have the ambition, the determination,” said Florence Amara, the team captain.

That attitude of determination may pay off.

A Sierra Leone boxing team was recently granted a visa to compete next month in the United States.

That gives athletes like Kargbo and Amara hope, especially since Ebola cases in the country have decreased generally, except for a few small areas.

Now the big challenge is getting back up to speed on their own game.

Until recently, public gatherings of more than 10 people were banned to prevent the spread of Ebola.

That means teams had to make do with fewer players, said Amara.

“It affected me as a captain, because I was not be able to see the kind of competitiveness I like to see in training, I’m not seeing all the techniques from players because some players have been left out, so the pressure is on me,” she said.

Kargbo is still concerned about catching the virus, so he runs alone for now.

“I miss the social aspect, because I used to train with my friends,” he said.

He also hopes more financial assistance will be offered to athletes like him who mainly rely on international support.

And, like Amara, he is not giving up and hopes to compete at the Olympics games in Rio in 2016.