Asiya Sururu Mohamed, 29

Kenya’s pioneer para-rower


Asiya’s eyes light up when she talks about sports. She plays seven: Wheelchair tennis, badminton, para-rowing, sitting volleyball, chess, scrabble, darts, javelin, and shotput. Her favourite sport? “I’m actually an F1 enthusiast. I love speed, I love thrills. I love [Lewis] Hamilton.”

But it is para-rowing, a sport where the disabled compete in water, that has brought her fame. She is a trailblazer. She was Kenya’s pioneer para-rower at the Paralympics in August 2021 in Tokyo.

Beneath the mask of achievement is one of wistfulness. “I started para-rowing in December 2018. Someone called me at Tudor Water Sports in Mombasa during a tennis tournament and told me, come try para-rowing, see if you like it.” Tennis Kenya recommended her when the World Rowing Federation was looking for parathletes to compete in the Olympic qualifiers.

“But I didn’t know how to swim.” She capsized immediately.

"“I was once asked if I had to choose between getting my legs back and getting my parents back. I would choose my parents.”"

Born in Mombasa, Asiya was raised by the world. “My father got a stroke when he witnessed my legs mowed by a train when I was two years old. He died soon after. My mother passed on not too long after that. My maternal aunt raised me and when she later died, my cousins took over.”

What does she think about when para-rowing? “Nothing really,” adding that she practices every morning. “Everything is still, I’m at peace,” she gushes about qualifying for the Paralympics (Tokyo, 2020). She recalls rowing in a zig-zag, passing everyone, and learning much later, one is supposed to row in a straight line. She laughs.

Would she change anything? “I was once asked if I had to choose between getting my legs back and getting my parents back?” She pauses. “I would choose my parents.”

What’s her biggest struggle currently? “Donors. Rowing is very expensive.” She tells me her boat is yet to arrive in Kenya. “Daily training at Tudor Water Sports requires finance.”

Asiya loves dancing and easily accepts failure. “To me, failure is a rite of passage. How can you enjoy success without a tinge of failure?”

Her role models “I love Jessica Long {an American Paralympic swimmer who has won 50 championships} but I identify with Catherine Ndereba {a Kenyan marathon runner}, her struggles, her journey. And my coaches, to who I owe my career. I am because of them.”

She has a restlessness, burning ambition to be the best and not allow the grass to grow under her feet.

Eddy Ashioya