In Summary
  • To give back to society, Sidialo spends time as a motivational speaker, encouraging those who have suffered similar losses and is an active participant in the Kilimanjaro Blind Trust, which seeks to offer educational opportunities to young people with sight problems. 
  • He is a motivational speaker and has served as head of the paralympic sports association, including taking charge of the team that participated in the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and achieved one of Kenya’s greatest performances.
  • There have been some nasty falls along the way. While taking part in the 10 to 4 bike challenge in Mt Kenya which involves riding from a height of 10,000 feet down to 4,000 feet on a challenging course, a tyre burst sent Douglas and Mwangi sprawling to the ground although they avoided serious injury.

There are different ways to react to a devastating setback. Some people crumble in the face of adversity and withdraw into their own world to deal with their loss.

Others like Douglas Sidialo – easily one of the most remarkable Kenyans around – choose to stand and fight with a strength that seems supernatural.

The motorbike salesman was heading to work on a typically bright Nairobi morning on August 7, 1998, when he heard a commotion outside the US embassy. Guards at the gate of the premises not far from the Railway bus terminus seemed to be in a tussle with several uninvited guests.

“The way we Kenyans are, when we hear noise, even if it is the sound of gunshots, we tend to draw closer to the action to see what’s happening. 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 later learnt were grenades going off.”

The main blast came seconds later and its impact was devastating. In what would turn out to be al-Qaeda’s first major attack, terrorists unleashed a massive bomb which killed 213 people and wounded 4,500 others in an assault that remains the deadliest terror atrocity East Africa has known.

Sidialo last saw the rays of the sun that morning, just over a decade and a half ago.

“The blast was extremely loud and I was thrown to the ground. I can’t remember how I was saved. I just found myself in hospital with bandages around my head. I couldn’t see anything. But I had hope when the doctor said that my eyesight would be restored in six months. I am still waiting, 17 years later.”

Mr Sidialo says the initial period after the terrible attack which took away his sight was one of disbelief, anger and anguish.

He had married the love of his life, Theresa Odembo, only two years earlier. His first born daughter had barely started to crawl. His best years lay ahead of him. And then the almost incomprehensible and senseless hand of terror, at a time when virtually no Kenyan had heard of Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda, struck.

“I was a very bitter man. At that moment, I felt that if I could find any of those people who had done that I could kill them. But bitterness only breeds despair. I decided to embrace my blindness as a challenge. I decided to face forward and I have no regrets.”

Sidialo rallied handsomely to tackle the hand fate had dealt him.

Douglas Sidialo (right) with a fellow cyclist at a past racing event. PHOTO | JEAN DU PLESSIS

Today, he has set a number of records as one of the most prominent blind adventurers in the world.

He has climbed to the Uhuru Peak of Mt Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest mountain. He was the first blind man to cycle from Cairo to Cape Town on a gruelling 12,000-kilometre journey over a period of five months in 2007.

He is a motivational speaker and has served as head of the paralympic sports association, including taking charge of the team that participated in the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and achieved one of Kenya’s greatest performances.

This month, he set another mark when, together with his pilot John Mwangi, they became the first tandem cycling team including a blind member to complete the 900-kilometre Old Mutual joBerg2c race in South Africa, one of the toughest mountain biking events on the continent.

THE FAMILY

Along the way, he has managed to raise a happy family, with his eldest daughter, Sharon, having completed high school and waiting to join university, second born Larvin is at Pangani High School and he has the pleasure of raising the couple’s youngest son, Baraka, who is one-and-a-half years old.

“I am grateful to God for what I have achieved. I have been fortunate to have many friends who stood with us and also to have a wonderful and supportive family. These setbacks are really challenging but it is essential that one does not despair in the face of what seems like a very stern problem.”   

At a time when Kenya is reeling from a string of attacks by the Shabaab terror group, Sidialo offers an example of how victims can rebuild their lives after the unimaginable horror of atrocities such as the murderous rampage through Garissa University on April 2.

Sidialo’s moment of self-discovery came in 2002 when he attended the Virginia Rehabilitation Centre for the Blind in America.

There, he met the man he describes as one of his greatest inspirations, Erik Weihenmayer, who was the first blind man to scale the highest peak of Mt Everest and who has climbed to the top of seven summits across the continents.

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