Sporting eye-catching black and blonde dreadlocks at the Africa Para Badminton Championship 2023 in Kampala, Uganda, Mamadou Aidara broke into a jig as the World Badminton Day Celebrations were about to commence, and the participants cheered him on as he combined gravity-defying acrobatics and electrifying dance moves.
“I’m an outgoing person, and I like talking to people and sharing my experiences. That’s why, I guess, the participants like me,” the Senegalese SL3 player told BCA TV. “I also take time to hear other people’s problems and offer solutions because we all more or less experience the same challenges.”
Playing in three categories (SL3 men’s singles, SU5 and SL3-SU5 men’s doubles), Aidara lost all the eight matches he played.
“Despite the losses, I’m still upbeat because I’ve gone through many defeats in life but I’ve always managed to see the good in everything. This is my first Africa Championships, and I want to learn as much as I can to go back and teach my club members in Senegal,” he said.
Aidara’s disability resulted from a botched Polio injection, and he ran away from home at an early age after being forced to walk long distances to attend school. He ended up living on the streets of Dakar as a Talibe, earning a living from begging. UNICEF estimates there are between 50,000 to 100,000 begging Talibes in Senegal.
“Life on the streets was hard – no shelter, water, getting arrested by authorities, going hungry for days, and as a person with disability, I was scared for my life as you could easily be killed for rituals,” said Aidara.
“However, when all was dark, my light came when I was passing a cyber cafe and saw an African boy dancing. I immediately knew this was what I wanted to do. I would go to the streets and beg, then use the proceeds to pay the cyber cafe to watch videos of this dancer. I would then use these acrobatic moves to perform in the streets. That’s when I was discovered by Senegal Cirque, who helped me join a gymnastic club and get a foster home.”
Aidara trained at the gymnastic club, developing his talent and performing in local shows in Senegal. His breakthrough came when Senegal Cirque offered to enter him into Africa’s Got Talent show in Ivory Coast. Aidara reached the final and came second to Guinean dancing brothers. His newfound fame opened more doors and he got employed in a school as a PE teacher.
“One day, the president of the club told me he was going to play Para badminton. I got curious and followed him. That’s where I met coach Dethie Diaham, who was trained in the BCA Para Badminton Coaching Workshop in Uganda. I immediately developed an interest in the sport, and I’m happy the coach saw it and took me under his wing,” Aidara recalled.
Aidara was among the players and coaches from different countries supported through BCA’s Para Badminton participation grant to be classified to attend the Uganda Para badminton International and the Africa Para Badminton Championship.
“Para badminton gives me hope my struggles haven’t been in vain. Through BCA’s support, I’ve been given the chance to attend my first international tournament and the Africa Championship to represent my country. Not even in my wildest dreams was this a possibility,” he said. “Other than friends of different nationalities, I’ve gained a lot of experience in the two weeks in Uganda. I can’t wait to share the knowledge I’ve gained to introduce Para badminton back home.”