A sudden loud bang, a chorus of screams and then a cloud of smoke mixed with shrapnel obstructed the morning’s otherwise pleasantly warm sunshine. That cocktail was the last thing Douglas Sidialo literally ever saw.
August 7, 1998 had been an ordinary Friday morning. Douglas, who was a motorbike salesman at the time, was heading to work. He heard a commotion outside the US embassy where the guards seemed to be in disagreement.
“I spotted a truck heading to the gate of the embassy and the guards came out and refused to let it in. We heard a few loud bangs which I thought were gunshots but later learnt were grenades going off.”
He remembers hearing an extremely loud explosion moments later and was roughly thrown to the ground by the impact. Through the commotion, he was lucky enough to be rescued by a Good Samaritan and taken to hospital. He woke up at the hospital with bandages wrapped around his head. He could not see a thing.
He was blind. The terror attack had taken his eyesight.
“I was very bitter and angry when I realised I would never see again. I was in shock and anguish. I felt that if I could find any of those people who had done that, I could kill them.”
It was a very tough time. He was a newly married man and a father of a two-year-old girl that he would never see again. Douglas recalls how overwhelming the feeling of despair was.
But with a strength that may seem supernatural, he rose bravely to tackle the hand fate had dealt him. Down the road he came to realise that bitterness and anger only hindered healing and that was when he decided to accept his blindness as a challenge and picked up the pieces with courage and resilience.
He was inspired by Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind man to scale the highest peak of Mt Everest. Sidialo had attended the Virginia Rehabilitation Centre for the Blind in America in 2002. It was then that he got the motivation to move on.
His love and passion for sports and adventure helped him through his journey of rehabilitation and he has shone bright since then, going on to break world records. He saw a way of making something out of his situation and he embraced it going on to accomplish the impossible by being a blind cyclist.
Douglas is believed to be the first ever blind African to reach the top of Mt Kilimanjaro, Uhuru peak, which is 5895 meters above sea level. He did this on September 9, 2005. Between January and May 2007, he went on a bicycle marathon across Africa, from North to South Africa, across 10 countries on the Tour D’Afrique, from Cairo to Cape Town, completing 12,000 km in 95 days, setting a world record.
In 2016 and May 2017, he went to compete for the second and third year consecutively in the Old Mutual Joberg2C 900 kilometers in over nine days from Johannesburg to Durban.
He has done three cycling majors on the slopes of Mount Kenya and the Great Rift Valley.
Sidialo is a founder and board member of Kilimanjaro Blind Trust Africa, which was started when Douglas and Erik Weihenmayer, his mentor, decided to create a lasting legacy of their climb up Mt Kilimanjaro. The key objective was to unlock the potential of blind and visually impaired children for independent living through Braille literacy and appropriate technology.
He has touched and inspired the lives of many as a motivational speaker whose key purpose is to unleash the power of the human spirit, to demonstrate that what is inside us is stronger than what is in our way and to inspire and excite the world.
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