Following a horrific train accident when she was a child, Asiya Mohamed Sururu lost her legs to an amputation. Almost 27 years later, she is a triple threat in sports; excelling in tennis, badminton and rowing. She tells her story from her home in Mombasa
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Imagine crossing rows of railway line. You look to the left then to the right – like it is custom.
There is a train coming. But it’s far enough to give you ample time to complete the crossing.
And so, you trudge on. First step. Second. Third. Fourth.
And then, suddenly, your body feels ten times heavy. You try to quicken your steps but it feels like you are moving in slow motion.
It sounds like a nightmare, doesn’t it? Yet, for Asiya Mohamed Sururu, this was reality one steely day in 1994 when she was two years old.
“I felt like I was being pulled back by a magnet,” Asiya says, recalling the painful and near-tragic experience.
Unable to move quickly, Asiya gave up and fell down, stretched across, on the tracks.
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“The train was coming closer and closer. And then, it was right there: grinding her bones as it went over me,” she says.
The accident was horrific. Asiya ended up losing her right leg (at the knee) and her left leg (at the hip). She also lost three fingers from her left hand.
Remarkably, after many days in hospital, Asiya survived.
Upon healing, Asiya was taken to a rehabilitation centre: where she learnt how to live a full life in spite of lacking legs and three fingers. Thus began a new chapter in her life.
“I started playing sports in primary school,” she says.
Being an amputee, Asiya attended schools for special needs. She dabbled in wheelchair racing, wheelchair tennis, marathons and so on.
For high school, she went to Thika School for the disabled. In Thika her love for sports grew even more. She practiced tirelessly.
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“It helped that the school also provided us with plenty of sports opportunities,” she says. And Asiya was a lover of activity.
Between 2012 and 2014 Asiya studied at Shanzu Teacher’s College for a diploma in Early Childhood Development (ECD).
In her college years, Asiya did not get much opportunity to continue practicing sports. “I only participated in marathons – like the Standard Chartered Marathon,” Asiya says.
Afterwards she joined employment as an ECD teacher. The employment years were her least active. She gained a lot of weight – weighing at least 70kgs at her heaviest.
“The decision to pursue sports was multifaceted,” she says. “One, I genuinely loved sports. But also, I needed to lose weight that I had piled on in the period I had been teaching.”
Asiya went to Mbaraki Sports Club to get back to fitness while also practicing.
“In December the same year there was selection for players going on at the club.
“I joined in the fray and went to try my luck. I got selected to play wheelchair tennis,” she says.
That December Asiya was part of a Kenyan team that travelled to Italy to take part in the BNP Paribas world cup.
She says: “I was one of four wheelchair tennis players representing Kenya.”
Asiya would represent Kenya again at the games in 2017 and in 2018 (both took place in Netherlands).
Last year she qualified for Tokyo Olympics to represent Kenya in para-rowing. But with the Coronavirus pandemic the games may be moved.
She trains at Tudor Water Sports and sometimes at Mbaraki.
Asiya is a full time sports person today after leaving employment. She plays tennis, badminton and rowing.
“I love all the three. I am good in all of them.”
She does not earn a salary but she says allowances from sporting activities have been enough to pay her bills and keep her going.
She is also at her happiest and healthiest having shed more than 20kg to now weigh 50kg.
“I was fat in 2016. In fact, my mother was worried for me. She told me to watch out because at 70kg, on a wheelchair, I was likely to suffer more health related repercussions,” she says.
She is equally proud that through sports she has travelled the world.
The physical exercises involved have kept her fit. “Not only physically,” she says, “but also mentally, psychologically and emotionally.”
The tragedy that befell Asiya was nightmarish. It would have easily banished her to a life of desolation. But from that pain Asiya has found a new lease of life.
“Do you get chided and teased a lot?” I ask her.
“Being chided and teased is something that happens to everyone in life – whether disabled or fully able bodied.
“To someone like me though it happens a lot. I do not let it affect me one bit. I know who I am even if someone else has a different opinion.
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“I cannot be perfect. But I do not need another person’s approval to feel good about myself,” she says.
Asiya has also learnt to let go of the small things: like being stared at.
“People will stare. Sometimes people stare until they stumble on themselves and fall.”
It is not fun being stared at. But Asiya lets the lookers have their fill. After all, she says, there isn’t much harm in a stare.
And then there are boys. The ones who whistle and hit on her in the most unpalatable of ways. “Boys can be naughty,” she says.
One time a boy told her, “You are so beautiful; how are you on a wheelchair. Are you faking the wheelchair?”
While it is off-putting, Asiya has learnt to ignore such overtures. She says she is laser-focused on sports for now.
That focus is one of the reasons marital life is not in her immediate future plans despite being in a committed relationship.
“There is a reason I was born. I have a purpose. I wake up every day knowing that whatever I do has to be in alignment with that purpose,” she says.
Living a life that she has deliberately defined for herself is fulfilling in a way that showers her with joy and happiness, she says.
She believes she has fully moved beyond the tragedy. But every now and then, she admits, her mind travels back in time to the incident.
In her head, she says, she asks herself – in a manner of having a soliloquy – many ‘What if?’ questions.
She says: “I wonder: what if the accident never happened? Where would I be? What would I be doing?”
The prospect of a fully limbed Asiya; educated to the highest levels; roaming the streets with palpable achievements in her steps, plays in her mind sometimes. Without the limitations of missing limbs, the world wouldn’t just been her oyster but a rocket-sized launching pad.
“Because I have a thing for teaching, I would be a lecturer: teaching at a university. Who knows?”
At the same time, it is not lost on her that she might have fared badly and found herself on the dark side of life.
There is a real chance, she says, that, in spite of having all limbs, she wouldn’t have amounted to much.
“Probably I would be a thug… or a harlot. Life can be mysterious sometimes.”
But her reality, in the now, is not an imagination. With the understanding that her life could have gone either way had the accident not happened, she trudges on knowing that she is being the best version of herself under the circumstances foisted upon her.