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Harlow: Amazing Journey For Congo Racer
Five weeks ago Dedeline Mibamba Kimbatahas had never sat in a racing wheelchair - now she is preparing in Essex to compete on one of the biggest sporting stages on earth.
The 30-year-old, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, has spent years competing in track races in her homeland, where she says: "I always win."
But races in her own country are informal affairs with no specialist equipment and often no marked track. So when she appears before crowds in the Olympic Stadium next month to compete in the 1500m Paralympic race, it will be a landmark moment in a remarkable journey.
Kimbatahas, an amputee who lost both legs in a land mine blast at the age of 18, hopes her wildcard appearance at the Games will act as a catalyst to change attitudes in her home country.
She said: "Back home disabled people are often overlooked and ignored. I hope this will inspire people. Disabled sport is not very advanced in the Congo. We race in normal chairs and in front of very small crowds.
"Competing in the Paralympics is an opportunity to change that and to change the status of disabled people in society."
Twelve years ago Kimbatahas was travelling to neighbouring Angola to visit family when she stepped off a bus to cross the border. She strayed too far from the path and heard a "bullet" sound. Three weeks later she recalls waking up in hospital with her legs removed.
Having grown up in a mountain region, she now lives with her sister outside the capital of Kinshasa. The mother-of-one works for a local disabled charity but has no regular income, getting by on "bits and pieces".
She is currently training in Harlow where she sat in a racing chair for the first time last month. Trainer Anne Wafula Strike, who is from the town, believes she has made great progress.
"We have had to overcome the language barrier as I only speak English and Swahili and she only speaks French and Lingala,'' she said. "We get by in sign language.
"The other challenge is adapting to the chair. In her home country the races are less formal, often on whatever land is spare and the distances may not be so regulated. She is adapting well to the conditions here."
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