Article By Matthew Cooper (Photos by Eugene Kavuma)
As the global sports focus descends on Euro 2016 what better time to reflect upon the sporting offerings of Uganda and none more so than the spectacles being presented at Kyaninga Lodge.
Known as one of the country’s most prestigious retreats, Kyaninga is also rapidly gaining a name in the country’s sporting calendar and later this year will provide the finish line for the first ever-international marathon in Western Uganda.
Kyaninga Triahtlon History
The idea for the event came from the success of the Kyaninga Triathlon. Now in its fourth year, the Kyaninga Triathlon already attracts people from across the country and it’s hoped that with the success of the proposed marathon to start attracting international competitors. At present the triathlon takes place twice a year, usually in April and then again in November, and utilizes the stunning location of Kyaninga Lodge.
For those of you who are new to the sport of triathlons this should bring you up to speed. There are two different race lengths on offer depending on how much you wish to put your fitness to the test against the rolling hills of Fort Portal. As is normal with all triathlons the first part of the race consists of a swim and this takes place on Lake Kyaninga itself with its beautifully clear and volcanically warm waters (well, not as cold as they should be for 700 feet deep!). There probably isn’t a triathlon in the world offering more spectacular surroundings, with tranquil blue waters below and tropical rainforest above, housing different monkeys and birds that will cheer you along your way.
After the 750-metre swim it’s a swift (ish) ascent to the top of the crater where bikes are waiting for the next part of the race. This takes you on 16 km tour of the local countryside, providing a spectacle for villagers and athletes alike, along murram roads that, as long as it doesn’t rain, are doable by all.
Upon completion of the ride we enter the final stage of the race which is a 4km run around the Kyaninga crater, with jaw-dropping views of the Ruwenzori Mountains and Fort Portal town, finishing at the Kyaninga Lodge helipad. For the fitness freaks amongst you who think that all sounds too easy then sign up for the medium length race which sees you complete each part of the race twice and is the same length as the professional athletes complete in international sprint triathlons (1500 metre swim, 32km bike ride and 8km run).
After the days sporting challenges are completed, Kyaninga puts on a banquet lunch with drinks and food available for all. The number of competitors has been steadily rising and the last triathlon had over 120 athletes of all ages, with the youngest being 8 and the oldest being 62, so no excuses can be made! You can enter the competition as either an individual and complete all three sections or bring some friends along and each have a go at one section, completing the race as a team. All proceeds from the day go towards supporting Kyaninga Child Development Centre (KCDC), which is an NGO set up by Kyaninga Lodge’s owner, Steve Williams, and what incredible work they do.
The NGO was founded in 2013 in response to Steve’s own son being born with a severe form of epilepsy. After discovering what an inadequate provision of services were available for his disabled son in the Kabarole District of western Uganda, and realizing the same situation would be being faced by many other children with disabilities, Steve decided he had to act.
Together with his wife Asha and specialist physiotherapist, Fiona Beckerlegge, they decided to found the NGO in order to offer services for people who find themselves in similar situations living in and around Fort Portal.
The demand for their services has been incredible and gives an indication as to just how long people have been waiting for such an intervention. KCDC currently provides clinic, school and community based services to children with disabilities on a daily basis, reaching 40-50 children per week. Through connections with 7 local community based organisations, KCDC also conducts weekly outreach programmes to rural villages in 13 parishes across the Kabarole District, extending up to 30km from their Fort Portal base.
This has allowed many children to receive services that would otherwise be unavailable to them due to difficulties in reaching the regional referral hospital. On top of this KCDC has also run 8 individual community assessment days where a further 180 children have been assessed and were referred for other medical treatment as necessary.
In 2016 alone, a further 110 children have been referred to KCDC and the number will continue to grow as the year progresses, with up to 50% of these children suffering from cerebral palsy, a neurological condition often resulting in mobility and communication difficulties. The effects are sometimes so severe that it leaves children with an inability to move properly or can affect speech, making communication with the family impossible. Through interventions such as physiotherapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy and also through teaching sign language to parents and children, many of these obstacles can be improved dramatically, resulting in huge improvements in the quality of life for both the children and families alike.
One of the biggest issues they face is the lack of understanding about disability in remote communities but the guys at KCDC are actively trying to change these attitudes by working in schools across the district. By sensitising both teachers and pupils it is hoped that many of the outdated ideas surrounding disability, such as witchcraft or curses, can be removed to allow a much higher level of integration.
During the last school year they conducted more than 50 visits to 4 schools to support children with disabilities in their learning needs. This involved capacity building for teachers including training seminars, individual learning assessments for the children and mobility and accessibility assessments to see what measures needed to be taken to make schools more viable for disabled children.
Such is the success and demand for their services that it is hoped within the next two years to set-up two additional centres in different parts of the district so that they can reach more children and continue to change attitudes towards disability. In order to do so however, further funding is needed but the guys at Kyaninga have been creative and are pooling their resources and creating an event that will put Fort Portal on the map.
As mentioned earlier, Kyaninga Lodge will hold the first international marathon in Western Uganda, which is due to take place on the 5th November under the title ‘Running the Rift’. The marathon will be run at international level meaning the length of the course will be 42.2 km and will encompass running along large stretches of the edge of the Rift Valley, with incredible views into the Congo Basin and down to Lake Albert and finally finishing at Kyaninga Lodge. Athletes of all levels are expected to attend and for those who don’t fancy the full slog of 42 km there will be two shorter race distances available, either the 21 km half-marathon or the more leisurely 10 km race.
The success of the triathlon coupled together with the fantastic work of KCDC has meant that sponsorship for the marathon has been secured and all proceeds from the race will go towards supporting KCDC. This means that by taking part in the race not only are you keeping fit and doing something good for your health but also you are helping to change the lives of others!