Somali Runner: Decision to amputate was best I ever made

During Somalia’s civil war, Abdifatah Dhuhulow sustained a wound that led to his leg being amputated some years later.

Remarkably, the loss of a limb helped Dhuhulow, who came to Britain as a refugee, discover a talent for long-distance running.

In 2008, he completed the London marathon in just over three hours. On a grey day in London’s Hyde Park, the 31-year-old talked to AlertNet about his love of running and his determination to do something for Africa’s neglected amputees.

In 1991, war broke out in the capital of Somalia, Mogadishu. I was injured when we were fleeing the city. We were travelling in a lorry with my relatives when we came under fire. I sustained a gunshot to my left ankle, which wouldn’t have caused me to lose the leg, but I fell off the lorry and the wheels went over my leg. It was completely crushed. I needed an operation to have my broken bones fixed but the only thing I could get was a dressing. After years of pain and uncertainty, and walking on crutches, I arrived in the UK as a refugee in 1998. I had my first operation nine years after my injury. The wound had healed incorrectly so in the first operation, the doctors re-broke the leg and lengthened it. For the first time in nine years, I was able to stand upright. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel but unfortunately, my lower leg which was badly damaged had flared up. I underwent four more operations before it was decided that the most viable option was amputation. It was February 2004 when I lost the leg. To give my consent for my leg to be amputated 13 years after the injury was not easy. But right now, I can say that it was the best decision I have ever made in my life because before I couldn’t walk properly without feeling pain or using crutches but now, despite losing the leg, I can run a marathon – with no problem at all. It was the physio at my local hospital, Charing Cross Hospital, who initiated the running business and without their help and the help of the limb-fitting centre prosthetists, I would not have achieved what I have achieved today. It was like a trial. I used to run in my local park once a week. In the beginning, it was very, very difficult because one leg was stronger than the other and I used to put weight on my good leg. I first started running four months after my amputation and four months after that I was able to run properly, and my speed increased.

I wanted to test myself on the track in Battersea (south London). My first mile time was seven minutes. I found out that I was good at running. I wanted to join an amputee running club but there’s no amputee running club in London, not only in London but in the country. So I joined a mainstream athletics club where I was the only guy with one leg. When I joined, I did not have the courage to believe I could keep pace with the athletes with two legs – but I found out I had been selling myself short. I found out I was even faster than most people and that helped me come out of my shell a bit more. In 2007, I took part in the British Open Championships for people with disabilities in the hope of making the GB team in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Despite proving that I had a talent in long-distance running, I was told I could not go to Beijing because the longest distance that amputees were allowed to run in the Paralympics was 400 metres. I tried to challenge the system but didn’t get far. I decided the best way to prove that amputees could not only run long distance but could do it in good time was to run the London Marathon in 2008. I ran my first marathon in 3 hours 14 minutes.

The training is only worth maybe 10 percent during the marathon itself – the rest is mental strength. At the moment, running is part of my way of life. If I don’t run, it feels odd. Running enabled me to not only overcome the trauma in the past but also to overcome whatever life throws at me. It’s medicine that I would prescribe to anyone who has stress or is suffering some sort of problem because it can release all the negativity within you. You can let go of a lot of things. I have this plan to run 555 miles in Rwanda to highlight the difference between the living standards of the disabled community living in developed countries and those in war-torn countries in Africa. The reason behind it comes from reflecting on what my life would have been if I was living in Somalia right now. People with disabilities in Africa – they don’t have the same opportunity as those living in the developed world. People tend to crawl on their bottom because they don’t have access to mobility devices like wheelchairs or prosthetic legs.

Through doing epic challenges, I hope to set up rehabilitation centres and educational centres for people living with disabilities in Africa. We want to inspire people. If a third of Rwandans could sponsor me for $1 each then setting up a rehabilitation and educational centres for people with disability in Rwanda would not be difficult. Deep down I feel there’s some sort of injustice – where you live defines who you are and limits what you can achieve.

I’m no different to the people like me in Africa and I believe that they too can overcome their barriers and achieve their potentials if they are given the opportunity.


By Katie Nguyen.

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation – Fri, 2 Mar 2012 12:42 GMT

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