Breaking Boundaries: Dieudonné’s Triumph Over Physical Disability

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Kigali, 11 September 2023 – Born with physical limitations, 23-year-old Keplerian Dieudonné Munyaneza’s childhood was marked by a longing to participate in activities that many of his peers took for granted. While other children in his neighborhood ran, played football, and engaged in various games, Munyaneza could only watch from the sidelines. His crutches, which offered limited support, left him feeling excluded and envious of the freedom his friends enjoyed.

During his primary school years, Munyaneza often felt a profound sadness, as he witnessed the untapped potential of able-bodied children and contemplated what he could achieve if he were in their shoes. The fear of trying out new games haunted him, making him doubt his abilities and the safety of attempting such activities.

What if I slipped, fell, and hurt myself?” He reflected, realizing that back then, he had no gear to assist him in playing basketball.

However, one day, Munyaneza’s life took an unexpected turn as he watched a group of young boys playing basketball with agility and enthusiasm.

“I felt a spark of inner joy. This is a game that I wanted to learn regardless of my impairment,” he says.

However, he grappled with doubts about holding a ball in one hand and a crutch in the other, fearing a potential fall and injury. Moreover, there were no specialized equipment or trainers available to help him pursue this newfound passion.

Undeterred by these challenges, Munyaneza turned to YouTube to study professional wheelchair basketball players in action. The more he watched, the stronger his determination grew.

Despite not knowing of any wheelchair basketball clubs in Rwanda, Munyaneza’s relentless pursuit of his dream continued. In 2017, a friend informed him about basketball teams for people with disabilities. During school holidays, he diligently researched teams in Gasabo, Kicukiro, and Bugesera districts. His search led him to Coach Jean Paul Hirwa, who was instrumental in establishing the Bugesera wheelchair basketball club.

Munyaneza eagerly attended one of the team’s rehearsals at Amahoro Stadium, where he was warmly welcomed. Coach Hirwa recognized Munyaneza’s determination and coached him on wheelchair control, ball handling, and shooting. The day the coach invited him to join the team became a pivotal moment, etched into Munyaneza’s diary.

“Coach Hirwa called me aside and asked me a few questions, but one thing I needed him to know was that I eagerly yearned to join the team. That same day, he guided me on how to control the wheelchair with the ball and shoot,” he explains.

From that point forward, Munyaneza dedicated himself to training and practice, honing his skills in dribbling, shooting, and passing. His hard work paid off when, in 2018, Coach Hirwa announced a 2021 tournament in Johannesburg and challenged the players to prove their worth. Munyaneza knew it was time to give his all. He practiced relentlessly, seizing the opportunity to improve his skills after completing secondary school in 2021.

Representing the wheelchair basketball team of Rwanda in Johannesburg, South Africa, Munyaneza faced tough competition against Kenyan and Johannesburg teams. Though they didn’t secure a victory, Munyaneza considered it a personal triumph. It boosted his confidence and revealed his potential.

In 2022, Munyaneza joined the Indangamirwa Wheelchair Basketball Team, still under the guidance of Coach Hirwa. While the coach offers training, refreshments, and limited financial support, the team faces challenges due to insufficient resources.

Munyaneza cheered for Kepler Basketball Club as the team competed in the Rwanda Basketball League, Division 2, at the Kepler court.

Munyaneza advocates for more friendly tournaments with other countries to garner support and sponsorship for Rwanda’s wheelchair basketball. His future aspirations include pursuing his project management master’s degree in the United States, winning tournaments to make his coach proud and inspire physically impaired individuals who doubt themselves.

Currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in project management with Kepler College, Munyaneza enjoys singing and reading about successful basketball players in his free time. His role model, Patrick Anderson, a Canadian basketball player renowned as one of the best wheelchair basketball players globally, inspires him to believe that with the right support, he can achieve greatness.

“The fact that he started playing at a young age and has won numerous medals at all levels of the sport, with three Paralympic gold medals and one Paralympic silver medal, I am optimistic that with the right support, I can be just like him one day,” Munyaneza concludes.