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South Africa: no feet no hindrance for cyclist

Disability does not hold back young South African who competes in grueling race.

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — Xolisa Dinga has no feet.

Yet asked what difference there is between him and other cyclists, the 16-year-old is at a loss for words.

’’There is no difference,’’ he eventually says. ’’Where they ride, I can ride. When they go fast, I can go fast.’’

Wearing state-of-the-art carbon fiber prostheses covered by stockings, the teenager put his assertion to the test as a competitor in what is billed as the biggest timed cycling road race in the world: Cape Town's grueling 68-mile Cape Argus.

Barely any of the other 35,000 contestants knew — or could guess — that the beaming teenager on a white racing bike was anything other than an ordinary, able-bodied boy.

“There is no difference. Where they ride, I can ride. When they go fast, I can go fast”
~Xolisa Dinga, 16, disabled cyclist.

But his journey to be part of the peloton that snaked its way from Cape Town, around the tip of Africa and back to the city was anything but ordinary.

’’When we found Xolisa he was mostly dragging himself around on his hands and knees,’’ said Tony Lubner, 53, whose charity, Sabrina Love, raised the money for Xolisa’s ’"legs’’ by entering a team of sponsored riders in last year’s Argus.

South African businessman Lubner and his interior decorator wife Suzy, 47, founded the charity in 2003, in memory of their disabled daughter.

’’Sabrina was an angel. In her seven short years she left an indelible impression on everyone she met. We feel she was sent for a purpose. Suzy and I, being well-off enough to have medical insurance, were able to give Sabrina the best care. We started the charity to help the many familes in our town, Plettenberg Bay, who simply cannot pay the added cost entailed in having a special child,’’ said Lubner, himself a keen cyclist who along with Xolisa and 185 other members of the team, rode the Argus on March 13 dressed in the distinctive pink Sabrina Love shirt.

South Africa has an estimated 2.2 million mentally or physically disabled people (6 percent of the population) and while the country’s modern constitution recognizes their right to equal treatment, activists say the government, while providing social grants, has failed to streamline regulations to elevate their standing.

Figures show that South African households with a disabled person lag behind on every lifestyle benchmark: access to education but also piped water (78 percent compared to 85 percent of the general population), electricity (62 percet compared to 70 percent) and employment (19 percent against 35 percent).

Groups fighting for their rights say that, given United Nations assertions that 80 percent of the world’s 500 million disabled people live in developing countries, South Africa should lead the way in improving conditions for its disabled.