“At first it felt like we were on a bus but when it started flying I realised it was completely different. Being high up there in between clouds, I wondered whether I was in heaven already,” Special Olympics World Games 400m bronze medalist Elizabeth Moyo said while giving an account of her first time experience on an airplane.
By Munyaradzi Madzokere
The destination was Los Angles, United States of America for the 14th Special Olympics Summer World Games in July where she scooped a bronze medal as Team Zimbabwe hauled an impressive 12 medals at the global event.
This is a girl whose mother dumped her on a railway track in the city of Gweru soon after birth about 20 years ago. Luckily, she was picked up by strangers who took her to Midlands Children’s Home where she got a second chance at life.
On July 29 2015 she was among 6 500 athletes from 125 countries gathered in one place with billions of television viewers across the world watching as she ran the race of her life, romping home in 1:10:85 seconds to come third in the 400m race.
“This was my first World Cup competition and this is my first medal at this level. I love it very much and it will always be my best because I will never have another first-time world medal,” she said in an interview with Standardsport on the sidelines of a belated welcome party for Team Zimbabwe held at Prince Edward recently.
While she was clear that she enjoyed the tour of Disney World, viewing Los Angeles’ massive skyscrapers and other historic facilities in America, she was also clear on the lessons she learnt from the expedition.
“I learnt that we are all the same; we are all people. We should always help one another all the time. When you help somebody who is less privileged, they will always want to help others if they also make it in life.
“It is now my wish that I will grow up to be a very successful sportswoman and be able to help others who are less privileged like me. I was very touched by the people in America who treated us as fellow human beings. They were very nice to us,” said the 21-year-old former Riverside Primary School student.
Born on March 6 1994, Moyo suffers from a condition called Dyslexia — a learning disability characterised by trouble with reading despite normal intelligence. Because there was no one to pay for her school fees, she could only pursue education up to Grade Seven. Luckily for her, she discovered at a very tender age her ability in sport and she has never dreamt of doing anything else ever since.
“I started running when I was five years old. That’s when I realised that I have got the talent, but most children would look down upon me because of my background since I stayed at an orphanage,” she said.
“I want to be like Elliot Mujaji. I want to achieve more by winning more medals. I want to participate in all the races from 100, 200 and 400m winning gold at the coming international competitions,” she added.
Ironically, Moyo — a 100m and 200m dash specialist — failed to win medals in those categories in Los Angeles but won in the 400m, for which she was only notified of participation four days before she left for the US.
“All the while I was practising 100m and 200m which are my specialty and just four days before we left for US, I was told I would compete in the 400m. I just said ‘Let me win [and] if I can’t win, let me be brave even in the attempt’, which is our oath and surprisingly I did not win a medal in my areas of specialty, only to make it in that last-minute race,” she chuckled.
Having started at Midlands Children’s Home, Moyo would later move to Queen of Peace, another home that assisted her with her schooling and eventually helped her join the Special Olympics. She is living with a foster family, the Jacksons, in the low-density suburb of Nashville, Gweru. The family attends the Emmanuel Fellowship church, which is also helping with Moyo’s upkeep.
“At the moment I stay with Mr and Mrs Jackson in Nashville, and I have two sisters, Anita (22) and Kimberly (17), as well as a brother called JJ (20) and they all treat me like I am one of them and I pray that God continues to bless them,” said Moyo.
“They are all happy for me after this achievement. Even people from my church, Emmanuel Fellowship, are celebrating with me and also praying that I get a sponsor so that I go far with my talent,” she said.
Just like most athletes who have excellently represented the nation on the international stage, Moyo could not hide her desire to meet President Robert Mugabe, just to show him their medals.
“He is our leader; he is able to help us continue with what we are doing as athletes. And I feel as a human being, he will be happy to see the medals we brought back for the country regardless of the fact that we have challenges that we have,” declared Moyo.
Special Olympics Zimbabwe was able to send 15 athletes with intellectual challenges to the Games and the team brought 12 medals, three gold, three silver and six bronze.
The Games, which took place from July 25 to August 2, were officially opened by US First Lady Michelle Obama. The event opened up to Moyo a world she would never have dreamt.
With more Special Olympics and other international competitions on the horizon, along with the prospect of more airplane rides to other big cities, Moyo can now afford to give advice to others who are in a similar position.
“Don’t look down upon yourselves regardless of where you are coming from or how people around you treat you. If you have got a talent, just keep on praying and working on that talent. One day God will make a way; just like he did for me,” she said.