Some names to inspire and follow at the Games
Adrien Niyonshuti: “These people came to my home and my school and killed my family”
Country: Rwanda Sport: Road cycling
Competition dates: 31 July & 3 August
Competition venue: Glasgow City
Adrien Niyonshuti rides to forget. Cycling helps block out the trauma of losing six brothers and a total of 60 family members in a genocide that killed an estimated 800,000 people in 100 days.
Niyonshuti was seven years old in 1994. He survived, somehow, and now, 20 years on, he is regarded by his compatriots as the man who is helping change perceptions of his country.
Although neither he nor his cycling team-mates will step onto any podiums in Glasgow, they will still be feted as heroes back home.
Their story, of a group of genocide survivors mentored by a former Tour de France rider from the United States, has already been made into the documentary ‘Rising from the Ashes’.
For a man who learned to ride on a wooden bike with wooden wheels, Niyonshuti’s list of achievements are remarkable.
He took part in the road race at the last Commonwealths and was the first Rwandan cyclist to compete at an Olympics, battling it out in the mountain biking event at London 2012, the first black African to do so.
“It’s the thing that helps me forget my problems,” he says. “I lost my family, my brothers, my grandmother. I have to survive this life I’ve been given. You never forget, you just have to be positive.”
Abdul Rashid Bangura: “This is my calling, to become a world champion”
Country: Sierra Leone Sport: Boxing (Men’s 75kg)
Competition dates: 26 July-2 August
Competition venue: Scottish Exhibition & Conference Centre Precinct
Abdul Rashid Bangura knows about the brutality of war. He can tell you about poverty, about struggle, about life and death.
The weighty jabs and powerful uppercuts he will attempt to absorb and evade will feel feather-light compared with the pain and grief the middleweight boxer has experienced in his 27 years.
When rebel forces from the Revolutionary United Front took over his hometown of Makeni, the then teenager felt he had little option but to leave his family and flee.
Yet a longing for home, a longing for his father, convinced him to abandon his search for diamonds in the shallow creeks and rivers of northern Sierra Leone and began the long journey home.
“I walked with bare feet for two whole days,” he recalls. “The sand burned my feet, we slept under no shelter, just so I could get back to my father.”
Any journey in a country locked in a decade-long conflict, a bloody war that would claim at least 70,000 lives, is a perilous one and far from easy.
During his long and arduous trek, Bangura was captured by rebel soldiers and put to work crushing ric Somehow his father, Sierra Leone’s boxing coach for many years, negotiated his son’s release and now Bangura, his nickname “Born Champion” tattooed on his forearm, can dream of Commonwealth gold.
He can barely afford to eat after training and shares second-hand equipment with other fighters. “We do it the hard way,” he says. “In Sierra Leone, it is not easy to become a good boxer.”
Now working for the police, protecting the country’s president and other important officials, Bangura’s daily routine usually involves a four-hour training session before work begins at 9am.
But driving him on is the memory of his father, who raised his son alone after Bangura’s mother left when he was one. He died earlier this year and Bangura said: “The only time my father was happy was when I was boxing.
“Even now, I am not boxing to please other people – I am only boxing to please my father even though he is no longer alive.”
Interview and pictures courtesy of Michael Duff, from bbc.co.uk