Bangajena's fame without fortune

HARARE - One would think winning the Sportswoman of the Year with a Disability five times and now on the verge of claiming it a record sixth time would make Margret Bangajena’s life a bed of roses.

Far from it, the Zimbabwe wheelchair racing queen’s talent and exploits may have brought her fame but have not transformed her lifestyle.

The wheelchair she uses so skilfully to dominate local and regional competitions has been patched up, straightened and repaired for the five years she has had it as a second hand.

Locally wheelchair racing is the least rewarding category in any marathon meet.

And that wheelchair racing is also reeling under the weight of the country’s economic meltdown has not helped her cause.

“It hasn’t been a smooth road, sometimes I have had to dig deep into my pockets to prepare myself to race,” she says.

“At the moment I am preparing for 2015 African Games but it’s a challenge.

“My chair is not in good condition. I am not able to compete in some of the races. Sometimes during a race the wheels stick,” she says of the wheelchair which costs $ 4000 to purchase.

Bangajena is one of the three nominees for the Annual National Sports Awards this evening against fellow wheelchair athletes Magadaline Madzivire and Thandiwe Ndlovu.

To compliment her athletics career, the Danhiko-based athlete doubles up as a seed analyst in the Ministry of Agriculture.

In the past season, her talent has seen her winning races that include the Masiyapambili 21 kilometers road race as well as the 21km Old Mutual Westgate race and 10km Old Mutual road race.

She went on to finish second in the 10km SV Muzenda race, the 10km Nkulumane Spar race, the ZRP Mabvuku 10km race and first in the Tanganda half marathon.

However, her efforts have not translated into financial stability.

“The problem is the prizes are different for wheelchair racers even though we compete over the same distance with athletes running on their legs,” she says.

“I wish they could realize that our wheelchairs also need maintenance. We need new tyres. We need to repair our chairs.”

The 34-year-old athlete adds:  “It’s just that our country is in a hard place but I should be somewhere, but it is what it is.”

Bangajena was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 15. The disease claimed her left leg before confining her to a wheelchair.

At that time the unassuming Bangajena felt as though the world was crumbling around her.

But unbeknown to her, that early life of tragedy would set the tone for an athletics career that has seen her become a five-time Zimbabwe sportswoman of the Year with a Disability.

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