By Moses Lubega Al-Sayyed
In October 2018, when the 2019 Abu-Dhabi Special Olympics volunteers program was launched, Hope Komugabe was one among the droves who applied for arguably the most ‘humanitarian sports event’ in the world. Her crave was to ‘provide a walking stick’ to her Special Needs nephew- Ugandan swimmer Larry Feni Craig. On Monday, March 18, 2019 afternoon, Komugabe yielded more than desired; a gold medal in 25m breaststroke for the 16 year old added to the 50m silver won earlier.
Outwardly, with the joy of a new born on their first trip to the park, Komugabe hugged and embraced him saying, “Oh my little boy!”
Feni had ‘rescued’ the sacrifice of his auntie forgoing her earnings’ to bask in her nephews glow. Komugabe had sought a break from work to join the volunteer program after learning her nephew was to feature in the games in what has become her second home (Dubai).
Some things worth the pinch, she smiles broadly; Komugabe has for years welcomed the ‘mother role’ as her beloved sister (Patience Gabriella Karungi); mother to Feni was hostage to long distance jobs.
In Kobugabe, Larry has not missed the mother to child connection. During his childhood, Komugabe dedicated hours taking Feni for speech therapy at Mulago. The doctor’s prescription was, “Take Larry to social places to rid him of his speech impairment,” she remembers. Watching him stand on the podium, she relieved those difficult years with a thrill.
Komugabe followed the advice by trying to introduce Feni into public spaces where he was most comfortable. One of these turned out to be a swimming pool in Kyaliwagyala, a Kampala suburb. Feni seemed to fall in love with being in the water almost immediately.
Staying faithful to the habit meant Komugabe had to abstain everyday chores and career strides.
Fate, perhaps not ready to break stride, anchored his dreams on another shoulder. His school then Hillside Preparatory Naguru built a swimming pool to square with his destiny.
The school’s swimming pool is worlds away from the Olympic size pool at Hamdan sports center, but there was the unmissable ‘raw playfulness after victory’ she concurs. Feni splashed the water at Hamdan after touching the wall first and cheered the on looking volunteers. He had won his second medal and this time a much desired gold his family has long sought. Back in Kampala Feni’s mother and sister had breakfast together to watch ‘their son’ and promise his homecoming will be epic.
Komugabe though will have her tale written better than her sisters. In the volunteer choice of; ‘SELECT PREFFERED AREA’ she ticked swimming pool to-‘of course looking up to Feni’s competition’ she reflected. It is possible she had pre ticked in the abstract before even the volunteer program was open. Both( Feni and auntie Komugabe) never swim far apart.
Yearly, Komugabe hosts Feni in Dubai, to weave their bond, and returns to Uganda twice a year to complete the ‘love circuit’ that began home.
Kobugabe chose Dubai over Kampala in 2012 to earn an extra petro dollar, leaving behind a downcast Larry Feni Graig. ‘Feni was always my ‘first man’ she gives a light hearted laugh about the 16 year old.
At that moment, I was reminded of his disability when he aligns his hearing device that rings a grey belt around his ears to accentuate his thought chain. In these games, Feni is classified among mild ID’s (intellectual disability) Like it has been for the bigger slice of his teenage years.
Feni has battled bias because of his impairment but blessed to have a family that treats him as a normal child, says Komugabe. His two best friends Shaba and Sheru (twins) complete Feni she says. The pool is his eternal shelter, where his auntie Hope Komugabe has a permanent ringside seat.