From the Nairobi traffic to the Paralympics | Africa | DW | 08.04.2012
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From the Nairobi traffic to the Paralympics

Dedan Ireri is Nairobi's only bicycle courier. Every day he battles the traffic in Kenya's captial - despite having lost one of his legs in an accident years ago. His dream: to one day compete in the Paralympics.

With a quick, hard brake, Dedan Ireri skirts around an approaching minibus. Then he hits the pedals again, yells out a loud "hey!" to warn the pedestrians in his way and cycles on. The streets are jammed with evening rush-hour traffic – but with his bike, Ireri is the only one who can squeeze through the gridlock of cars and the fumes.

Dedan Ireri

Ireri lost his leg when he was hit by a bus

"With this traffic situation, on a bike I'm simply better off than the others," he says. "We of course also have motorbike couriers, but on short distances, I am even faster than they are."

Alcohol and drugs

Ireri is delivering some urgent documents in the center of Nairobi. His mountain bike is his living. It's his leg to stand on – in the most literal sense of the word, since in a 1993 accident he lost one of his legs.

"I was a homeless street kid back then," Ireri explains. "I drank a lot of alcohol and was pretty hammered. I just didn't pay attention and was hit by a bus. In the hospital, they had to amputate my right leg."

After the accident, Ireri began to take drugs and drank even more. But one day he saw something on TV that changed his life. "There was a one-legged man who was riding a bicycle," he recalls. "It was German guy called Tobias Graf. And I thought – I want to do that too."

First time on the bike

Ireri had never before sat on a bicycle. So, he asked a friend to push him on a bike and hold him to keep his balance. Three weeks later, he was able to ride. "From then on I got better and better and faster and faster," he says and speeds off up an alley as if to prove his point.

Dedan Ireri

The Kenyan desert is a good place to get in shape for the Paralympics

But his ambitions go beyond the Nairobi traffic. Ireri is a true sportsman – several times already, he's won in competitions for people with disabilities. His greatest moments so far: taking part in races in Columbia and Canada.

A grand dream

In Kenya, Ireri has joined the Tour d'Afrique race, an epic bike expedition from Cairo to Capetown, for a few days. The route takes them through the desert between Moyale and Marsabit in the country's north. There's nothing but sand and stones.

"It's good training," he says. "If I want to be really fit, I have to be able to handle rough terrain." His biggest dream is making it to the Paralympics one day. He just needs to find a sponsor he says, to be able to compete in one of the qualification races.

In terms of fitness, he certainly seems to be already at the right level. He laughs and speeds off down the road with the other riders, kicking up a cloud of dust in the Kenyan desert.

Author: Peter Hille / ai
Editor: Ben Knight

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