Ghanaian Helps Disabled Countrymen

By Miki Fairley

About 27 years ago, a young man was born in Ghana with a short femur and knee dislocation in his right leg. This was not a great start in life, since in Ghana many, if not most, disabled persons are either hidden or abandoned by ashamed families. In fact, the day Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah was born, his father--feeling disgraced by his son's deformity--abandoned the family.

Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah runs at the PossAbilities Triathlon at Loma Linda University. Photo by Bruce White and courtesy of Challenged Athletes Foundation.
Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah runs at the PossAbilities Triathlon at Loma Linda University. Photo by Bruce White and courtesy of Challenged Athletes Foundation.

However, his mother was able to send him to a private school. She died when he was only 13, so Emmanuel had to leave school to earn the equivalent of $2 a day shining shoes on the streets of Accra, Ghana's capital, noted www.nike.com.

Disabled persons compose about 10 percent of Ghana's estimated population, and years later, Emmanuel dreamed of fulfilling his desire to empower and inspire some two million fellow disabled Ghanaians. He learned about the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF), based in Del Mar, California, which assists disabled athletes to achieve their goals.

CAF Helps

Yeboah wrote to the organization, describing his proposed campaign and asking for a bicycle to be donated. With support from CAF, he completed the 610-kilometer ride (about 380 miles) in September 2001, wearing a shirt that read "The Pozo"--local slang for a disabled person, notes the Nike website. Throughout the journal, Yeboah delivered his message of disability awareness, education for disabled children, and the need for improved orphanages to citizens, government officials, royalty, church leaders, dignitaries, and the media.

Emmanuel's First Triathlon

Then, in 2002, CAF flew Yeboah to San Diego, California, to participate in CAF's Triathlon Challenge, a renowned athletic event which is a major fundraiser for the organization. After the event, CAF and Loma Linda University Orthopaedic & Rehabilitation Institute, Loma Linda, California, joined forces to provide Emmanuel with an amputation and an advanced prosthesis made with componentry from Ossur North America, Aliso Viejo, California. Last year, CAF again flew him to attend the Tenth Annual San Diego Triathlon Challenge, so that he could ride the 56 miles with two legs. Emmanuel then shaved over three hours from his time the previous year.

Wins Nike's Casey Martin Award

CAF nominated Emmanuel for the Nike Casey Martin Award, presented in honor of Casey Martin, a pro golfer who engaged the PGA in a landmark lawsuit for the right to use a motorized cart during tournaments. The US Supreme Court ruled in Martin's favor in May 2001. That same year Nike created the Casey Martin Awards to celebrate his passion and competitive spirit. The award is presented annually to an individual who "has excelled in athletic pursuits while overcoming significant physical, mental, societal, or cultural challenges, and who proudly serves as an advocate for fellow athletes with disabilities," explains Nike.

Just two days after the 2003 Triathlon, Emmanuel flew to Beaverton, Oregon, where he accepted this honor at Nike's world headquarters November 5. The award included an inscribed silver medal and a $25,000 charitable-organization grant.

Emmanuel's Vision

Emmanuel receives CAF's
Emmanuel receives CAF's "Most Inspirational Athlete of the Year" Award from Robin Williams, presented at the San Diego Triathlon Challenge. Photo by Robert Oliver and courtesy of the Challenged Athletes Foundation.

Working in conjunction with CAF, Emmanuel plans to pursue his mission with this grant in a five-year plan, consisting of these activities:

To educate children with disabilities in Ghana each year. Emmanuel believes that through education, children not only learn how to use their minds, but they also become engaged in sport and are empowered to do more than become beggars.

To oversee CAF grant distribution of sports chairs to people with disabilities in Ghana.

To oversee a generous contribution from the Free Wheelchair Foundation to distribute 250 everyday wheelchairs to those in need. There are many in Ghana who crawl on the ground because they do not have access to a wheelchair. These special chairs will allow people to finally gain better mobility.

A portion of the grant will also be used to educate Emmanuel. When his mother died, he had to leave school in order to support his siblings. It was then that he opened his shoeshine business and began planning his dream to ride his bike across Ghana and help others with disabilities.

Emmanuel's long-term vision is to open a disabled Sports Academy in Ghana. Currently, there are two stadiums in Ghana that are used by all sportsmen. If people with disabilities use the facility, and able-bodied athletes arrive for training, the disabled persons must leave, explains CAF.

Robin Williams gives Emmanuel a new running leg, courtesy of CAF, Ossur North America, and Loma Linda University. Photo by Robert Oliver and courtesy of the Challenged Athletes Foundation.
Robin Williams gives Emmanuel a new running leg, courtesy of CAF, Ossur North America, and Loma Linda University. Photo by Robert Oliver and courtesy of the Challenged Athletes Foundation.

The Disabled Sports Society of Ghana meets monthly, but has very little equipment. Often, disabled persons travel miles to attend, only to find there is not enough equipment to go around. After a while, they become defeated and do not return. Emmanuel believes that by building the Sports Academy for people with disabilities, people will have access to sports such as wheelchair basketball, soccer, rugby, wheelchair racing, and more.

Coinciding with the CAF mission that the pursuit of sports helps to increase self-esteem and confidence, Emmanuel believes this will empower Ghanaians with disabilities to take control of their lives and not live as beggars and victims. Eventually, this could even lead to a team from Ghana participating in the Paralympics, notes CAF.

A chief of the Kibi region has promised land on which to build this center. And to top off a great year, 2003, Emmanuel, married a beautiful lady, Elizabeth, on December 27.