Remember the #ChasingSmilesChallenge? What about the para-rowers attempting to achieve the impossible by representing Zimbabwe at the Rio Paralymic games? If your memory is a little sketchy, let me just remind you – a month before the first qualifier most of the team had never rowed, nor could half the team swim. And yet, this morning, Zimbabwe’s mixed coxed four set off for Rio.
It may read fairly easily as ‘dream it, do it’ kind of Cinderella story. However, the realities of what this team have had to endure are the stuff movies are made of. Rachel Davis, coach and woman extraordinaire was brought to tears recounting how individuals in the team have struggled and sacrificed in order to uphold their commitment to their country.
It truly has been a rollercoaster journey. After wining a wildcard in Italy, the team were forced to fund raise all over again for a second qualifying trip to Poland after Chipo Zhento sadly had to forfeit her place in the team due to medical reasons. This extraordinary team of volunteers have had to reconcile personal costs and sacrifices that most athletes at the games never will. Training, affected by unrest, hardship and lack of funding has been sporadic. One member even had to sell his cellphone in order to be able to get to practice. And yet, somehow they did it. After all the set backs and sacrifices, backed by an incredibly supportive and generous community of rowers and sponsors, the team will row at Rio.
Supported by manager and Zimbabwe Rowing Chairman Miles Trustham and coached by Rachel Davis, the team represent hope and strength. Jessica Davis and Michele Garnet are school girls. Maragret Bangalena is a single parent who believes in something better for her son. Takudzwa Gwariro is hopeful the games may provide a scholarship and opportunities that are simply not available to him at home. Previous Wiri, a proud father of a month old girl, hopes with all his heart that a job will come out of all this (get in touch with me if you have any leads!). All have championed over their disabilities and challenges.
This brave team deserve to be cheered, encouraged and supported all the way. Who knows, they may just inspire the next Zimbabwe gold medalist. Good luck team Zim!
You can watch the opening ceremony on the 7th September and catch their first race September 9th at around 1pm Zim time.
From left to right – Miles Trustham, Previous Wiri, Rachel Jane Fallows-Davis, Maragret Bangalena, Jessica Davis, Takudzwa GwaZa Gwariro and Shell Garnett