Extraordinary People

Girl shunned at school over visual impairment to run in Paralympics

Taonere Banda was forced to hide her passions growing up

Being picked for teams during PE at school is an excruciating task most of us will remember, never wanting to be chosen last by the captains.

For Taonere Banda, her reality cut even deeper when she was shunned from sport altogether due to her visual impairment.

This meant, despite her love of running, she was discouraged from taking part and excluded not only from games but lessons too.

Now, Taonere is having the last laugh, as she triumphs over adversity to represent her native Malawi in the upcoming Paralympics taking place later this month.

[Credit: Taonere Banda]

The 25-year-old is living proof that even if no one believes in you, so long as you believe in yourself, anything is possible.

Reflecting on her school days, Taonere said: “I liked running. I never took part in athletics at school because most of the sports teachers were looking for people without an impairment.

“They’d say, ‘No, you can’t do this. You cannot run with this condition.’ So, I had to hide my passions.”

It was only after being identified by a local institution as a promising athlete that Taonere was selected to participate at an event where competitors from 11 districts took part.

It was here she ran the 400m and 800m – coming first in both.

[Credit: Sightsavers]

Fast-forward to today, and Taonere will be competing in the T12-13 [medical-based Paralympic classification for blind sport] 1500m race.

Her rise to success is made even more remarkable by the fact that Taonere could not train on flat running tracks in Africa, instead practicing on uneven ground without standard defined lanes.

While Taonere is going for gold this year, she has had a taste of the world stage before.

Back in 2016 at the Rio Games, Taonere made history as Malawi’s first Paralympic athlete, and as the sole representative of her country was flag-bearer during the opening ceremony.

[Credit: BBC]

During a roller-coaster heat, Taonere showed promised during the first lap, although her initial speed tired in the latter stages and she lost the lead in the last 600m to finish fourth.

Frustratingly, she was later disqualified from the race for leaving her lane.

This year, she hopes to be on the podium to show that disability does not mean inability.

When she’s not speeding past rivals, Taonere supports visual equality group Sightsavers’ who call on governments to ensure children with disabilities, especially girls, aren’t left behind in education.

Good luck at the Paras, we’re rooting for you!

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